Dominic Grieve has been exposed under pressure as little more than a Brexit wrecker

Dominic Grieve has been exposed under pressure as little more than a Brexit wrecker

Dominic Grieve is the connoisseur’s Remainer of choice. Not wild and shouty like Anna Soubry, not universally distrusted and despised like Alastair Campbell or Tony Blair, not bordering on the totally obsessed like Andrew Adonis or A.C. Grayling. Like a fine wine, he oozes sophisticated notes of avuncular sagacity, interspersed with constitutional propriety and dispassionate credibility – indeed the bottle reads “may contain traces of respecting the referendum result”.

Or so he would like you to think. But as the latest episode of parliamentary wrangling over Brexit has shown, all the hype and rave reviews count for nothing until the bottle is opened. And now that Grieve has been opened up and exposed to the air, there’s a distinct whiff that something’s not right. The Grieve bottle is corked.

There were already signs that something was wrong during last week’s debate, when Grieve’s 2018 vintage failed to live up to the 2017 batch.

“No one in this House, as far as I am aware, wishes to fetter the Government’s hands in negotiations, or indeed the Government’s right to walk away from the negotiations,” declared Grieve 2017 as his supporters nodded on approvingly at the reasonableness of it all. But one year on, Grieve 2018 struck a more sour note: “The idea that it is wrong in a crisis for the Parliament to direct the Government what to do is plainly fallacious. It cannot be right. We are entitled to do that.”

By Thursday, the fancy label was also in danger of peeling off Grieve’s bottle, after Grieve – despite his scrupulous insistence that he was not in the business of trying to reverse the referendum result – was caught attending a secret planning meeting of leading Remainers in the European Commission’s London Headquarters. This was not some jolly social gathering but the latest in a series of high-level “Where Next for Brexit?” meetings which have reportedly been taking place since March for arch-Remainers to coordinate how best to soften or even stop Brexit. Also on the guest list this time were A.C. Grayling, Alastair Campbell, Remain comms chiefs James McGrory and Tom Baldwin, anti-Brexit peers Baroness Altmann, Baroness Wheatcroft and Baroness Ludford.

And by the weekend, the label had peeled off almost entirely, to reveal something completely different altogether, as a flustered Grieve blurted out on the Sunday Politics that a consequence of his ‘meaningful vote’ amendment would be that “we could collapse the Government”.

Had scheming Remainers been sold a bottle of vintage Château d’Yquem, only to find that it was actually a cheap bottle of Echo Falls? Instead of a sophisticated Château Grieve, finessed with plentiful intellectual quips about supporting the Government and the constitution with only subtle hints of undermining the referendum result, had they simply ended up with a bottle of cheap Adonis plonk, with full-on Remainer notes far too stringent for other Conservative MPs to stomach?

The bottom line is that the Government had already offered Grieve every concession he had asked for – barring the ability to reverse Brexit altogether. The fact that Grieve kicked up such a fuss at the Government’s compromise amendment, despite securing all of his (public) demands, is very revealing of what his true motives were. It is becoming quite clear that Grieve and Anna Soubry will not be appeased by any concessions the Government offers unless they keep alive the possibility of forcing a second referendum or a full-on Brexit reversal.

While Grieve himself has been careful not to admit this publicly, he has been less careful in choosing his allies in the Lords, who have been unable to mask their contempt for the British people’s decision, nor their desire to use the ‘meaningful vote’ amendment to overturn it.

Grieve’s chief ally, Viscount Hailsham of moat-cleaning fame, who succeeded in attaching Grieve’s amendment to the Bill in the Lords on Monday, did a veritable impression of Star Wars’ Emperor Palpatine as he frothily ranted: “I don’t believe in Brexit, I think it’s a national calamity,” having previously declared that a second referendum would be “wholly appropriate”. Lord Bilimoria, one of the leading supporters of Hailsham’s original meaningful vote amendment was even more explicit, saying that “it is Parliament thanks to this amendment which will have the ability to stop the train crash that is Brexit.”

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said that “stopping Brexit is one of the options that we need to consider” when challenged over the purpose of the amendment. Labour’s Shadow Brexit Minister Matthew Pennycook was asked by Labour MP Gareth Snell whether there were any safeguards on the meaningful vote amendment that would stop it being used to block Brexit altogether, and confirmed that such a scenario could hypothetically arise, even if Pennycook didn’t belive it to be “realistic” due to the parliamentary arithmetic.

But as Labour’s repeated U-turns on key planks of Brexit policy like a customs union have shown, what a shadow minister dismisses as “unrealistic” today can easily become a looming possibility tomorrow. Indeed, Remain campaigners have recently switched much of their efforts towards trying to pressurise the Labour front bench into changing their policy of a second referendum. With Sir Keir Starmer having already succeeded in changing Labour’s policy on a customs union – in apparent coordination with the European Commission, and in spite of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell’s latent euroscepticism – Remainers have pinned their hopes on Starmer ultimately being able to pull off another dramatic Labour policy shift, this time on a second referendum.

Even without another Labour policy U-turn, the net effect of Grieve’s ‘meaningful vote’ amendment would still be to hand the reins of Brexit to Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer. Corbyn may be no fan of the EU but his desire to destabilise the Government and seize power for himself will always trump his Brexit concerns when it comes to the crunch – as his earlier strategic concession to Starmer on the customs union demonstrated.

This could lead to the absurd situation of Corbyn and Starmer effectively dictating the country’s Brexit policy in concert with a small number of rebel MPs at the most crucial stage in the negotiations, a prospect that would have the European Commission rubbing its hands with glee. A full-on collapse of the Government would inevitably follow. 

Grieve’s comments over the past few days veer dangerously close towards admitting that he would happily see such an outcome if it meant stopping Brexit, or at least heavily putting the brakes on it. His associates’ comments are even more open about the prospect.

His attempts to portray himself as the disinterested champion of the constitution have unravelled dramatically as his true motives have come out into the open over the last few days. By refusing to back down, despite having all of his demands met barring the ability to block Brexit outright, Grieve has revealed himself to be little different from the wreckers like Adonis and Campbell, despite the veneer of supporting the Government and respecting the referendum that he has put on top of his arguments.

The hype may have been considerable, but now that Grieve has been truly put to the test, the final product has been found wanting. It’s time that Parliament accepts that it hasn’t been sold what it thought it was and sends Grieve’s ‘meaningful vote’ amendment back. It doesn’t matter how expensive the wine is on the menu – if it’s corked, it cannot be drunk. Grieve’s undoubtedly is.