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How worried should Boris Johnson be about his party’s Brexit rebels?


espite dire warnings about breaking international law, the government won the first vote on the UK internal market  on Monday night by a comfortable majority of 77. Only two Conservative MPs – Sir Roger Gale and Andrew Percy – voted against the bill, while more than 20 abstained. The Tory rebellion was somewhat offset by the support for the bill from the Democratic Union Party, which backs Brexit but opposes the withdrawal agreement. 

The most difficult moment in the House of Commons will probably come on Tuesday next week, when there will be votes on amendments to take out the clause of the bill that takes the power to override the withdrawal agreement, or to make it subject to a further vote of parliament. At that point, several of the abstainers might vote against the government, and other rebels who voted for the principle of the bill will join them. 

Damian Green, who was Theresa May’s deputy, voted for the bill in principle on Monday, but has said he will vote for an amendment that would require another vote, which has already been tabled by Sir Robert Neill, one of the abstainers. Boris Johnson tried to bamboozle the rebels by suggesting that, “if the powers were ever needed, ministers would return to this house with a statutory instrument on which a vote … would be held” – but he didn’t say that such a vote would come afterwards rather than before the powers were invoked. 

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