Later on Tuesday, backbench MPs will try to seize control of Brexit as they vote on a set of amendments to alter – or even stop – the UK’s exit from the bloc after PM Theresa May failed to get her deal through parliament.
Speaker John Bercow reportedly received 14 amendments to May’s Brexit deal, with half a dozen of them expected to be put to a vote in order to achieve Brexit Plan B.
Voting is scheduled to start at 7pm and may go on until around 8.30pm. By that time, it’ll likely become clear whether Brexit will be paused, possibly indefinitely, or whether the embattled prime minister will be sent back to Brussels for more talks with the EU.
The amendments can be separated into three main categories:
Proposals to prevent a NO-DEAL Brexit
One of the most important amendments comes from Labour’s Yvette Cooper, which requires May to delay Brexit and extend Article 50 if she’s unable get parliamentary support for her deal by February 26.
Another notable one is much softer and non-binding in nature. Tory MP Caroline Spelman and her Labour counterpart, Jack Dromey, are pushing for the “no-deal” concept to be rejected in principle.
The two key proposals here are from Tory backbenchers, Andrew Murrison and Graham Brady, chair of the influential 1922 Committee, responsible for hiring and firing Conservative leaders. They call for the contentious Irish backstop to expire by December 2021 or be removed from the Brexit deal altogether. The backstop is a safety net to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland if there’s no Brexit trade deal.
Indicative vote amendments
These are focused on ensuring that MPs get more parliamentary time to discuss the kind of Brexit they want to see agreed. Labour MP Hilary Benn has one amendment explicitly demanding indicative votes on Brexit options, including Norway Plus, a Second referendum, a “managed” no-deal, or a Labour Brexit. Prominent Tory Remainer, Dominic Grieve, is also calling for six days in February and March to be set aside for debates on motions not selected by the government.
May’s spokesman said on Monday that talks on changing the deal to make it satisfactory for the MPs were ongoing. The PM was also willing to give the parliament another opportunity to vote for the Brexit deal as soon as possible. He didn’t name the exact date, but the Sky News sources claim it may happen on February 13.
The prime minister’s original Brexit proposals were thrashed by the parliament on January 15, with the government losing by record 230 votes. The UK’s deadline to leave the EU is March 29, unless London and Brussels agree on altering the schedule.
May had reportedly been persuading Tory MPs to back the demand for an Irish backstop to be replaced with “alternative arrangements” in the Brexit deal during Tuesday’s vote – so that she could put pressure on Brussels in case of further negotiations. The EU, however, insists that it has no intention of changing the terms of last year’s accord with London in any significant way.
“This Withdrawal Agreement has been agreed with the UK government, is endorsed by leaders, and is not open for renegotiation,” the European Commission spokesman told the journalists.
The leader of the ERG, an influential pro-Brexit caucus of lawmakers, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has already announced that his group will vote against any amendments looking to change or eliminate the Irish backstop.
Labour has yet to decide which amendments it will back on Tuesday morning, hours before the vote, several sources said. The party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, will consider his next steps carefully, as polls show that his inconsistent stance on Brexit is costing him public support, especially among young people.
Earlier, Labour said it would be eager to support a deal providing for a permanent customs union with the European Union. However, it also wants a national election to be held if no agreement is reached, and the option of a second referendum on quitting the EU left on the table.
The most aphoristic comment on Tuesday’s vote came from the EU’s deputy Brexit negotiator, Sabine Weyand, who insisted that by refusing to support the deal, British MPs were “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”
Weyand said that the Brexit deal was shaped by London, and the country’s parliament should treat it as a win.
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