How British MPs plan to seize control of Brexit from Theresa May

GettyTheresa May
  • Theresa May has set out her Brexit plan B to parliament after suffering a historic House of Commons defeat on her deal.
  • MPs from across the Commons have brought forward a series of amendments to May’s plan which seek to seize control of the Brexit process.
  • Among the amendments which could be selected for a vote by the Commons speaker John Bercow are plans to delay Brexit, hold a second referendum, or give MPs control of the entire process.
  • The amendments will be put to a vote on January 29.

LONDON – After her Brexit deal was defeated by a crushing 230-vote margin last week, Prime Minister Theresa May outlined her Brexit “plan B” on Monday, which turns out to be rather similar to her “plan A.”

She plans to return to Brussels where she will once again ask for concessions from the European Union before putting her plans back before the House of Commons next week.

But parliament has different ideas. Numerous MPs from across the House have brought forward a series of amendments to May’s plan which, if passed, could fundamentally reshape the course of Brexit, wrestling much of the prime minister’s control away from her and blocking a no-deal Brexit.

So what are the amendments, what do they mean, and how likely are they to pass? Here are the most important ones explained.

Stop no-deal by delaying Brexit

The UK is currently set to leave the EU on March 29, 2019, whether it has secured an exit deal or not. May has also insisted that the UK will leave by that date with or without a deal. However, an amendment brought by Labour MP Yvette Cooper is designed to prevent this.

Cooper’s amendment would allow parliamentary time for a bill – also tabled by Cooper – which would allow MPs to vote on delaying Brexit if parliament has not approved a deal by the last week of February.

The bill would not automatically require the government to seek an Article 50 extension. Instead, it would give the government until February 26 to secure a deal which is accepted by parliament.

Here’s the key section of the bill:

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 for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union 5 (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (“the 2018 Act”), the Prime Minister must, not later than
26 February, move a motion in the House of Commons in the form set out in subsection (2).

That means that MPs could vote on an extension of the two-year Article 50 process should the bill pass. But the bill would itself be difficult to bring into law because legislation has to pass between the House of Lords and House of Commons several times before it enters statute books and there is not much time for this to happen.

However, the proposed bill has the backing of high-profile Conservative and Labour Remainers. Nick Boles, Nicky Morgan, Stephen Kinnock, and Hillary Benn have all put their name to the Cooper amendment which will be voted on on Tuesday January 29.

Whether the amendment passes is likely to depend on whether the Labour frontbench supports it. Cooper appears confident that they will, and shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman said this week it is “absolutely something we’ll seriously consider.” Her Labour front bench colleague, Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, described Cooper’s plan as “fantastic” on Tuesday morning.

A parliamentary coup

Mps house of commonsUK Parliament / Jessica Taylor

Another amendment is one tabled by Conservative Remainer Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general.

The government usually controls the agenda in the Commons, which prevents backbenchers from tabling bills and dictating parliamentary business. Grieve’s amendment would allow MPs to table different Brexit motions for six full days of debate before the UK’s EU exit date.

Grieve said it would give MPs time to debate various Brexit options such as a customs union, a second referendum, or the Norway model. Following a backlash, he removed a controversial provision in his original amendment – which was leaked – that would have allowed a motion put forward by a minority of 300 MPs from five parties to debated as the first item on the Commons agenda the nexst day.

Grieve said it would allow MPs to vote on alternatives to May’s defeated deal.

Even if House of Commons Speaker John Bercow selects the amendment for a vote, Grieve’s amendment would struggle to be accepted because Labour is unlikely to back such a radical plan. The leadership reportedly fears that it could hamstring a future Labour government.

Give MPs a vote on a new deal or a referendum

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour frontbench has brought forward a less radical amendment which states parliament should have a vote on all possible Brexit options, including a second referendum.

At the top of the list of options would be Labour’s own Brexit policy – permanent membership of the customs union combined with “strong” ties with the single marekt. The Labour leadership believes the amendment is in line with the party’s conference motion, which called for Labour to keep all options, including a second referendum, on the table.

However, the plan is not backed by Tory Remainers, who are unlikely to hand an easy victory to Corbyn in any circumstances. Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who backs a ‘People’s Vote’, told Business Insider: “The Labour amendment is not a People’s Vote amendment. The front bench is continuing to use creative language to duck the decision about backing a people’s vote.”

Let a ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ decide

An amendment brought forward by Labour MPs Stella Creasy, Lisa Nandy and others would force the government to delay Brexit pending the creation of a new “citizens assembly,” who would decide what to do next. The assembly would consist of “250 members comprising a representative sample of the population to consider the process in connection with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, to make recommendations and to report to the House of Commons.”

This is an interesting idea. However, if 650 experienced legislators in the House of Commons can’t agree a way forward, it’s difficult to see why 250 randomly selected members of the public would fare better.

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