We can see that they are shaking up Westminster. But we still don’t know if this is a durable group—or exactly what it will do about forcing an election or halting Brexitby Tom Clark / February 20, 2019 / Leave a comment
After a year of wrestling with “Brexit means Brexit,” and what a meaningful vote really means, Westminster watchers are more practised than they used to be at syntactic analysis. That’s just as well. Because with the rise of The Independent Group, there is now a pressing practical need to pull apart and inspect such fundamental terms as “party,” “opposition” and—as of this lunchtime—even “join.”
Today’s big news is that three proudly non-tribal Tories—Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen—will “join” the eight Labour quitters in what, I suppose, we’re going to have call TIG. But that is not—quite—what their resignation letter said. Instead it suggested they would resign to “sit as independents alongside The Independent Group of MPs in the centre-ground of British politics.” But is “sitting alongside” the same of “sitting within”? I’d have thought not, and I doubt the confusion produced by this line was purely the product of clumsy drafting. Although TIG have claimed the three Tory turncoats as full members, I think it is best to see how this trio of genuinely independent-minded parliamentarians operate in practice.
Today’s additions—if they are indeed full additions—swell the ranks to 11, which pips the Democratic Unionists by one and matches the Liberal Democrats. If the group continues to grow, and there are already some non-TIG independents who could be enlisted as well as more Labour deserters, the exact tally could affect speaking rights in the Commons, and expectations of and entitlements to media coverage. So it isn’t just lexicography to demand a clearer definition of the group’s status, and where its boundaries lie.
The next big question regards the nature of TIG. Although they have taken their seats on the opposition benches, are these three former Conservatives now truly “opposition” MPs or not? Another intriguing line in their letter says that they acknowledge “there will be times when we support the government” with public services, the economy and security held up as contexts where that would happen—expansive examples which might, you would think, cover most of the day-to-day work of politics, most of the time.
Even on the (supposedly) defining Brexit question, we’re not quite clear how the TIG will play it. They are enthusiasts for a second referendum, but…