Next Tuesday's vote in the Commons could be more decisive than any we've had so far

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Theresa May's Plan B looked very similar to Plan A because it was Plan A in disguise. Not heavily disguised - there was just a little bit of tinsel around it to make it look slightly different. Next Tuesday, MPs will debate a Government motion that the House has considered the written statement laid before it yesterday. All very vanilla. This motion, of course, will be amended, and the amendments have already started rolling in. 

Arch-Remainer Hilary Benn, the chairman of the Brexit Committee, has tabled an amendment calling for a series of indicative votes. He called for this in his question to the PM yesterday. Dominic Grieve, who can barely be described as a Conservative MP these days, has tabled an amendment that would give MPs the chance to back different Brexit options, including a second referendum. But the amendment that everyone is talking about is the one from Yvette Cooper, which is backed by people like Nick Boles, Oliver Letwin and Nicky Morgan. 

This amendment seeks leave to present a Bill before Parliament that will instruct the Government to seek an extension to Article 50 if "before 26 February 2019, the House of Commons has not passed a resolution approving the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship". Clause 1, subsection 2 of the Bill states:

"That this House directs the Prime Minister to seek an extension of the period of two years specified in Article 50(3) of the treaty on European Union to a period ending on 31 December 2019". 

For the amendment to pass it must have support from the Labour leadership, but that is likely to happen. It also has to be selected by the Speaker, but as the amendment has so much cross-party support, that will be a formality. I am not a betting man, but I even I would place a bet on this amendment passing next Tuesday. 

But what happens if this amendment is passed? There is no guarantee that the European Union will look favourably on an extension to Article 50, and it would have to be approved by all of the other 27 EU member states. The European elections take place in May, and if there was an extension until 31 December, UK MEPs would have to be elected. That is not ideal for them. Nor is there a guarantee that this Bill will pass both Houses of Parliament, although it probably would.

This is the Brexit wrecking amendment that could prevent us leaving the EU on time, and if it did, a second referendum could be approved to take place at some point before 31 December. 

If the amendment is passed, May will have been humiliated, but humiliation doesn't seem to bother her. It could work in her favour. Many Brexit supporting MPs have made it clear that if the backstop is removed or is time limited, they will support the Prime Minister. I can see the EU giving away some ground on this, and with the threat of not leaving on 29 March at the front of their minds, many MPs will vote for a deal that they know is awful, that leaves us half in and half out, but it will mean that we formally leave on time. 

But there is no guarantee that the parliamentary arithmetic will work in the Government's favour. It would require over a hundred Conservative rebels to come back into the fold, and even if the DUP supports the Government, there would still need to be a number of Labour rebels joining them in the division lobby to make sure it got over the line. If the plan is unacceptable to the DUP and May succeeds in getting parliamentary support, they have threatened to pull the confidence and supply agreement. So many ifs, buts, and maybes. 

Parliament is taking back control of the process in a way that is unprecedented in modern times. In so many ways it is trying to act as if it were the Government. As the majority of MPs do support us remaining in the EU, they are not that interested in respecting the referendum result. They pay lip service to it, but that's about it. Once again we will witness another important vote in the House of Commons next Tuesday, and this one could be more decisive than the votes we have had so far in determining what happens next. 

 

Photo Credit: Chamber of the House of Commons 

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  • Bill Wilkins
    commented 2019-01-23 17:35:00 +0000
    Should these amendments go through!
    Then the public who voted in a democratic referendum will have been robbed of their DEMOCRACY.
    This will do parliament NO favours & cause immense harm to our constitution.
    Make no mistake!