Brexit could split the Tory party. So many people wrote articles arguing this before and after David Cameron called the EU referendum, but it was generally assumed that the split would involve disgruntled eurosceptics claiming they had been betrayed after Britain voted to stay in the bloc after all. It was also generally assumed that the split would at least involve something quite serious.
But today MPs are locked in a war of words over whether or not they should get a ‘meaningful’ vote on the final Brexit deal. Those in favour defeated the government last night: Theresa May’s first serious Commons defeat since the snap election. Stephen Hammond was sacked as a vice chair of the Conservative Party for his rebellion, which shows how far the party has swung around that previously loyal pro-Remain ministers are now the naughty rebels.
But sackings for rebellions are one thing. Calls for deselection from MPs like Nadine Dorries and commentators such as Tim Montgomerie show quite how sour the Brexit debate has turned in the Conservative party. The Tories once rightly slammed Labour and its hard left proponents of deselecting moderate MPs with whom they disagreed. Now some Tories are arguing the same, but over a vote about a meaningful vote which is really not all that serious anyway. It all feels rather like Ecclesiasties, whose author complains repeatedly that everything is meaningless.
In fact, the whole debate has taken on a religious fervour. Brexit has become one of those ‘just war’ causes in politics, in which people on both sides feel as though they are quite entitled to advocate things they themselves would previously have thought poor form.
Less extreme insults between the camps have involved MPs questioning one another’s integrity and even their mood, branding one another ‘bitter’. This all comes on the heels, by the way, of a report on the harassment of MPs during the election, which was committed by people who could not cope with the existence of people whose politics they disagreed with. It’s a shame that this bad temper seems to be in evidence amongst MPs themselves.
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