Theresa May could lose her grip on Brexit as MPs fight to take back control

  • Theresa May faces a series of crunch votes in the Commons on Wednesday, with several that could spell trouble for the government if passed.
  • One amendment could allow MPs to hold a series of votes on their preferred Brexit outcomes, something Downing Street is desperate to avoid.
  • Labour also plans to formally back a second EU referendum after this evening’s votes.
  • The prime minister yesterday promised MPs a vote on delaying Brexit.

LONDON – Theresa May will on Wednesday evening seek to fight off a series of attempts by MPs to take control of the Brexit process after the prime minister was forced into offering parliament the chance to delay Britain’s exit from the EU.

The prime minister announced the vote on delaying Brexit on Tuesday in order to prevent multiple resignations from her Cabinet. Pro-EU ministers had been threatening to resign in order to back a Brexit amendment due to be voted on tonight which would have taken the decision out of her hands.

However, despite her concession, MPs have still tabled twelve amendments to be voted on this evening, several of which would cause Downing Street a headache if passed.

An amendment by Conservative MP Caroline Spelman could force the government to hold a series of indicative votes on different Brexit options on March 19, just a week after MPs are set to accept or reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal and 10 days before Brexit.

The amendment has a good chance of passing this evening, and that could have potentially big ramifications. The way it is designed would give parliamentary time to a motion on indicative votes proposed by Brexit committee chair and Labour MP Hillary Benn.

That would set a precedent for parliament taking control of the Brexit process from the government, something Theresa May has been desperate to avoid.

And there is also a good chance that a majority of MPs, including the Labour frontbench, could indicate support for a Brexit deal which involves customs union membership, which could undermine Theresa May’s opposition to such an outcome.

The Cooper-Letwin amendment, which was pulled after May offered a vote to delay Brexit, is still on the order paper for tonight, but those who have tabled it say it won’t be moved if ministers provide more clarity on the future vote.

Dozens of Remain-supporting MPs, including several Cabinet ministers, had threatened to rebel against the prime minister and vote for the Cooper-Letwin plan if she failed to offer them a chance to vote on a Brexit delay.

Cooper has also tabled an amendment forcing the prime minister to commit to the promised Article 50 extension vote on Tuesday.

Labour prepares to back a second referendum

This evening is also significant because it is likely to mark the point when the opposition Labour party formally backs a second referendum.

The party announced earlier this week that it put forward or support “an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country.”

Its own amendment – which asks parliament to support Labour’s own preferred version of EU exit – will be defeated as usual, at which point the party will formally back a second referendum.

Former Labour MP Chuka Umunna has brought forward an amendment calling for a People’s Vote which has already gathered cross-party support. Corbyn will be under pressure to back the amendment, despite it being raised by a rival group consisting mostly of former Labour MPs who are highly critical of his leadership.

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