Boris Johnson has just been speaking in the Commons as the government tries to quell the Tory revolt over the internal market bill. Johnson’s tone was different from the government’s last week. There was no repeat of Brandon Lewis’s infamous words about a ‘specific and limited’ breach of international law, rather there was an emphasis on how the Northern Ireland clauses were ‘reserve powers’ that he hoped never to have to use. He stressed that MPs would have the chance to vote on a statutory instrument before they came into force.
The problem for the government is that this whole debate has been framed by what Lewis said, and the knowledge that this wasn’t him going off-piste but reading out the official government script. Number 10 won’t take anything off the table when it comes to the consequences for those who vote against the government on the Northern Ireland clauses. But given the framing of the debate, they would be unwise to escalate things further.
In term of the size of the rebellion, Sajid Javid – the former Chancellor – joined it earlier today and the very pointed question from the former attorney general Jeremy Wright about the ministerial code strongly suggested he won’t be supporting it. But set against that was the fact that Steve Brine, who Boris Johnson took the whip off last autumn, made clear he would support the government as long as it was still going for a deal, an assurance Johnson was happy to give.
Tonight’s second reading vote will see some Tory absences and abstentions. But it is next week’s votes when the rebellion is likely to be at its largest, and even then it is not likely to overturn the government’s majority.
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