- Theresa May’s Brexit deal was defeated by a historic margin for a second time on Tuesday.
- The prime minister is losing control of the Brexit process with just days to go until the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union.
- Now Members of Parliament are battling to decide what happens next.
- Here are the key votes and Brexit amendments that will seek to direct what the government does over the coming days.
LONDON – Theresa May’s Brexit deal defeat on Tuesday evening has opened the door to those who want to seize control of the process and force the prime minister into pursuing a completely different course.
The Withdrawal Agreement was voted down by a huge margin of 149 votes, despite the European Union giving May a number of new assurances on the controversial Irish backstop.
As a result the prime minister has agreed to hold a series of votes on whether to pursue a no-deal Brexit or delay the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.
The first vote on leaving the EU without a deal will be held on Wednesday with the vote on delaying Brexit held on Thursday.
The House of Commons will likely vote against no-deal and there is a strong possibility that it will vote for an Article 50 extension, with a majority of MPs keen to avoid leaving without a deal on March 29.
However, the most important developments this week are likely to come in the form of amendments which MPs are planning to table to the two main votes.
If passed, they would give MPs the power to forge a new path through the next stages of Brexit, including agreeing a closer relationship with the EU, or holding a referendum on whether to leave at all.
Here’s what they’re planning next.
The Malthouse plan
A number of Conservative MPs on Tuesday night tabled an amendment describing what has come to be known as the “Malthouse Compromise.”
The group, assembled earlier this year, is made up of both Leave and Remain-voting MPs – including former ministers Nicky Morgan, Damian Green and Steve Baker – who have come up with their own plan for delivering Brexit.
Four Malthouse members posed for a picture last night as they tabled an amendment calling for the prime minister to make “Plan B” of their plan her official Brexit policy.
Essentially, “Plan B” calls for a so-called “managed no-deal,” in which the UK would leave the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement on May 22 after a short extension to the Article 50 exit process.
Under the plan, there would be a standstill transition period lasting around 30 months, in which the UK would pay Brussels what it owes as an outgoing member, in exchange for trade and cooperation continuing exactly as it does now.
MPs will vote on this amendment today if it is selected by House of Commons Speaker John Bercow.
One MP in the Malthouse group told BI that they believed at least 200 Conservative MPs will support the amendment, excluding government ministers who could support it given that May might let Tory MPs have a free vote.
The MP added: “It recognises that we are not ready for no deal on March 29 but if we can’t get an agreement approved by Parliament no deal remains the default position so it has to be prepared for – but better if we could secure a standstill & we know net recipient EU member states won’t say no to the UK paying!”
There is just one – rather large – problem. The EU has been loud and clear in stating that it will not agree to the terms of the Malthouse plan.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, tweeted on Tuesday night: “Listening to debate in the House of Commons, there seems to be a dangerous illusion that the UK can benefit from a transition in the absence of the WA [Withdrawal Agreement.]”
“Let me be clear: the only legal basis for a transition is the WA. No withdrawal agreement means no transition.”
Attempt to rule out no-deal
Conservative and Labour MPs who have been at the forefront of efforts to prevent the UK leaving without a deal have tabled what is being called a “clarifying amendment” to the prime minister’s main motion today.
The prime minister’s main motion “declines to approve” a no-deal exit but explicitly notes that leaving without a deal on March 29 remains the default legal option unless the UK and EU sign an agreement.
This new amendment – led by Labour’s Jack Dromey and Tory Caroline – removes references to the default no-deal option and simply says “that this house rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship.”
The MPs behind the amendment – Spelman, Dromey, plus senior MPs Oliver Letwin, Hilary Benn, Nick Boles, and Yvette Cooper – are frustrated by the wording of the prime minister’s motion, which warns MPs that a no-deal is still on the table if they fail to agree to the prime minister’s deal. Basically, they want to kill a no-deal Brexit.
Their own amendment would attempt to take a no-deal off the table altogether, which many MPs believe is in line with the commitments the prime minister made when she agreed to hold votes on no-deal and a Brexit extension.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is also likely to whip his MPs to vote for it. The Scottish Nationalist Party and newly-formed Independent Group are also set to back it.
The problem both with the government’s motion and the amendments to it, is that while they may appear to rule out leaving the EU without a deal, the reality is that a no-deal Brexit will still occur on March 29 unless the government and parliament can agree upon an alternative to it. So far that hasn’t happened.
Take charge of what happens next
One route to solving that problem is an amendment being worked on behind the scenes in Westminster, which would give the House of Commons the chance to hold a series of votes on various Brexit options.
These “indicative votes” would be on options which will likely include a Norway-style “soft” Brexit in which the UK would stay in the single market, and a Brexit new referendum.
If one of the options is backed by a majority of MPs, then the government would have to make it official policy, according to the terms of the proposed amendment.
An indicative votes amendment has already been drafted and will be tabled on Thursday when MPs vote on whether to extend Article 50, a figure involved told BI. The thinking behind it is that it if MPs can agree on an option, it will give the UK a clear purpose for extending negotiations, and make the EU more inclined to agree to an extension.
Those involved in the plans also believe that May will not hate the idea, as it means she won’t lose control of Brexit – at least not for a few days. The amendment calls for indicative votes to take place in over a weeks time.
“That is the plan. The prime minister is being urged to adopt that,” a government minister who supports it told BI.
“It also keeps the prime minister in control of the process, for a while at least.”
MPs who support a Norway-style exit from the EU – an idea which gained traction last week after meetings involving Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – believe indicative votes could be the best route to this sort of Brexit.
Senior Cabinet ministers who reportedly back indicative votes are Chancellor Philip Hammond, Work & Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, and Justice Secretary David Gauke.
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