Threat of a coup is ‘real and terrifying’

Rebel: Dominic Grieve as Oliver Cromwell (with apologies to the artist Robert Walker, 1599-1658).

A bombshell plot by senior MPs to seize control of Brexit negotiations tomorrow night and sideline the prime minister has stirred references to Oliver Cromwell’s seizure of power in 1649.

We are on the brink of a momentous week in British history. The prime minister has warned that the future of democracy is at stake. The government is careering towards defeat and possible collapse.

Tomorrow, MPs will finally vote on whether to approve the prime minister’s Brexit deal. Theresa May is facing the biggest defeat of any government for a century, with 100 of her own MPs set to rebel.

If she loses, May must return to Parliament the following Monday with a plan B. This could be an altered deal, a no-deal or a delayed Brexit to give time for more talks with the EU.

But she might not make it that far. A heavy defeat would put pressure on May to resign, and Labour could mount a vote of no confidence at any moment. “It’s going to be soon,” Jeremy Corbyn said yesterday.

Yesterday’s headlines signalled the state of panic in Westminster.

May: Back my deal or face catastrophe.” “Tories ‘on the brink of imploding’ over Brexit.” “Bercow’s secret ‘kill Brexit plot’ with Tory saboteur.”

Writing in the Sunday Express, May pleaded with MPs to back her deal or risk a crisis of democracy.

As Tory donors warn that Brexit may never happen, May declared that failing to deliver the result of the referendum would be “a catastrophic and unforgivable breach of trust in our democracy”.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Sir John Major said it would be “morally reprehensible” for the government to allow a no-deal Brexit. “Jumping off a cliff never has a happy ending.”

But amidst the chaos and condemnation, one story stood out.

A group of formidable MPs led by Dominic Grieve and Sir Oliver Letwin is plotting a parliamentary power grab on a scale not seen since the days of Oliver Cromwell.

Determined to stop a no-deal Brexit at any cost, they will seek to change Commons rules so that motions from backbench MPs are prioritised over government business. It would turn the centuries-old relationship between ministers and MPs on its head and, in effect, give Parliament the power to extend Article 50 without the government’s say.

Today, Theresa May’s former legislative chief, Nikki da Costa, who had a key role in getting the government’s Brexit plans through Parliament, warns under the headline “the threat of a Brexit coup in Parliament is real — and terrifying” that the government will lose its ability to govern.

Rebels and roundheads

The majority of the UK voted for Brexit. In 2017, Labour and Tory MPs alike were elected on a pledge to enact that result.

So who are Grieve and co. really “taking back control” from? An out-of-touch, stubborn government, or the people of this country? Some think the rebels are behaving like an elite which knows better than the unruly masses.

You Decide

  1. Would a no-deal Brexit be a disaster?
  2. Should there be a second referendum?


  1. “Should Britain leave the EU?” Hold your own class referendum with a show of hands. How different was your result to the one of the 2016 referendum? What are the main arguments for each side of the debate? Talk about these questions as a class.
  2. Research the English Civil War and create a timeline of the major events.

Some People Say...

“[Tuesday’s vote is] the biggest and most important decision that any MP of our generation will be asked to make.”

Theresa May

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Tomorrow, MPs will vote on whether to approve Theresa May’s Brexit deal. She is likely to be defeated, as up to 100 Conservatives from hardcore Brexiteers to Remain voters could vote against her, along with all 10 DUP MPs.
What do we not know?
Whether the rebels will succeed in their Cromwellian power grab. Academic Stefan Collignon is keenly aware of other parallels with the most tumultuous moment in English history. He points out that the geography of the Leave-Remain divide almost exactly reflects the split in support between the King and Parliament during the English Civil War. The impoverished northern and rural areas that had been left behind by growing trade with Europe supported tradition in the King, while the wealthy south-east favoured giving power to Parliament.

Word Watch

Vote of no confidence
Labour would win the poll if the majority of MPs vote that they have no confidence in Theresa May’s government. This would topple the government and probably lead to a general election. However, Labour would be unlikely to win.
Tory donors
Donor Crispin Odey says he has given up hope that Britain will ever leave the EU, due to opposition in Parliament.
Inspiring fear or respect.
Dominic Grieve
A former Conservative minister who is also a top barrister. He is very critical of Brexit.
Oliver Cromwell
Head of the parliamentarian rebellion against King Charles I, which led to the King’s execution. Before the monarchy was restored, he ruled as Lord Protector.
Article 50
The government activated Article 50 in March 2017, triggering a two-year countdown until Brexit. For this to be delayed, Parliament would have to pass a law.


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