Rishi Sunak’s Windsor Framework has won support in the House of Commons at 515 ayes to 29 noes. As expected, DUP MPs voted against the deal – after the group’s leader Jeffrey Donaldson announced early this week that the party would oppose it. As for the Conservative party, there were 22 Tory rebels, including three former Tory leaders in Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Iain Duncan Smith. Other rebel MPs include Jacob Rees Mogg, Priti Patel, Jake Berry, Jonathan Gullis, Christopher Chope and William Cash.
The number of abstentions looks to be sizeable – in the region of 48 Tory MPs. However, it’s likely that several of those – such as cabinet minister Grant Shapps – have been agreed with the whips. This vote was held on the Stormont brake aspect of the protocol (which gives Northern Ireland the power to object to new EU laws) but the result is being taken by the government as approval of the whole Brexit deal, especially given No. 10 is not compelled to give the Commons a vote on the issue in the first place.
So, is this a success for Sunak? There were efforts to grow the size of the rebellion, with European Research Group chair Mark Francois strongly recommending Tory Brexiteers reject the deal. Instead, the agreement has comfortably passed the Commons.
But more than that the Prime Minister has managed to avoid the number of Tory rebels hitting the low 30s which had been the benchmark for Sunak not having to rely on opposition votes. However, one ERG source claims that the number of abstentions means Sunak needed opposition votes to pass the plan. This rests on counting every abstention as a no vote rather than an MP being away – and a scenario in which all opposition MPs voted against the measure. Abstaining is often used as a parliamentary tactic to reduce rebellions – but as one former whip puts it: ‘You really can’t say an abstention was a no vote anymore than you can say it was a yes vote’.
A few weeks ago, there were hopes that the rebellion could be reduced to single figures. This has not proved to be the case. Yet the rebellion is less severe than feared last month, where some suggested that more than 100 Tory MPs could rebel. However, if deadlock remains at Stormont and the DUP does not return to power-sharing in the coming months, the protocol renegotiation will have fallen short of one of its key aims.