GTMC Brexit Update 28th March
Yesterday represented a historic moment in UK politics as the House of Commons finally seized control of Brexit away from the Prime Minister and began the process of “Indicative Votes” on a number of possible exit scenarios which might conceivably command the support of Parliament.
As if to underscore her weakness, Mrs May was forced to grant her party a Free Vote, so as to avoid further resignations from amongst her rapidly depleting Government. On the opposite side of the House, Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn whipped his MPs to support Motion M calling for a second referendum to ratify any Withdrawal Agreement. This move was opposed by many Labour MPs representing Leave constituencies and saw MP for Grimsby, Melanie Onn resign her role as Shadow Housing Minister.
Wednesday marked the first stage of the Indicative Votes process as Parliamentarians considered eight proposed amendments to the Withdrawal Bill – with the most popular to be debated in a runoff vote taking place next Monday. No motion emerged yesterday as the clear winner – although several were very narrowly defeated such as Motion J tabled by Ken Clarke – and the leading Backbenchers will today meet and decide which proposals to take forward to a runoff vote.
The motions under consideration are:
- Motion B: John Barron - Commits the Government to leaving the EU without a deal on April 12 (defeated by 240 votes).
- Motion D: Nick Boles - Commits the ‘Common Market 2.0’ (Norway with a customs union tacked on) (defeated by 95 votes).
- Motion H: George Eustice - EEA membership, without an added customs union (defeated by 312 votes).
- Motion J: Kenneth Clarke - Commits to leaving the EU with a customs union (defeated by 8 votes).
- Motion K: Jeremy Corbyn - Backs Labour’s ‘deal’, a customs union and future regulatory alignment with the EU (defeated by 70 votes).
- Motion L: Joanna Cherry - Any withdrawal agreement must be put to a second referendum (defeated by 109 votes).
- Motion M: Dame Margaret Beckett - Any withdrawal agreement must be put to a second referendum (defeated by 27 votes).
- Motion O: Marcus Fysh - Malthouse Compromise Plan B. Seeks a transitional agreement with the EU while negotiating trade deal in exchange for £39 billion (defeated by 283 votes)
It is interesting to note that the Scottish Nationalist Party – which has been ardently opposed to Brexit of any sort – abstained on Motion J which suggests that a hybrid motion supporting a soft Brexit and second referendum could command a majority.
However, while Parliament deliberates on a potential way forward, the Prime Minister continues to prepare one last push to force her Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament – potentially as early as Friday 28 March. The first hurdle is the Speaker of the House of Commons, who has already made clear that he will not allow a Third Meaningful Vote (MV3) unless the Government brings forward substantial changes to the Withdrawal Agreement. Even if this can be achieved, the Speaker has repeatedly shown that he is willing to defy expectations, particularly if that means infuriating the Government. Therefore, we cannot rule out the Speaker pulling one more arcane rabbit out of his hat in an attempt to stop MV3.
The second challenge to MV3 is the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) upon whose votes the Prime Minister relies. The DUP remain implacably opposed to the Withdrawal Deal due to the constitutional implications of the Irish Backstop mechanism and while negotiations between the Prime Minister and DUP continue, there has so far been no indication that they have changed their position. Without the support of the DUP, many Conservative MPs will refuse to back the Withdrawal Deal and the Prime Minister will simply not have the numbers to win MV3.
Throughout this whole process, Mrs May has been opposed by many dedicated Brexiteer rebels from within the Conservative Party. However, as Parliament prepares to vote on their preferred outcome, many of these Brexiteers have come to realise that the prospect of a soft Brexit (or no Brexit at all) is becoming increasingly likely. A significant number of influential Brexiteers (including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson) have suggested they are prepared to back the Withdrawal Deal should the DUP throw their support behind it. It is further hoped that if both the DUP and enough Conservative rebels fall into line, this may just be enough to convince wavering Labour MPs to lend their vote to the Withdrawal Deal and force it over the line.
Given the Withdrawal Deal was previously defeated 391 to 242 this may seem like an insurmountable mountain to climb. However, last night the Prime Minister played her one remaining card and announced that she will be resign should her Withdrawal Deal pass through Parliament. The discontent which has engulfed the Conservative Party and Government throughout this process have left many Conservative MPs desperate for a change in leadership. However, the failed Vote of No Confidence which took place shortly before Christmas has left Theresa May immune to removal by her own party. Therefore, by setting out her timetable for departure, the Prime Minister may be able to secure the support of enough Brexiteers MPs, who although unhappy with her Withdrawal Deal, may be prepared to accept it should it enable another Prime Minister to lead the UK into the next stage of the negotiations. That said, the prospect of a new Government led by a Brexiteer may inadvertently see Labour MPs pull their support, such is their dread at the thought of Boris Johnson as PM.
Therefore, the key things to keep an eye out for in the days ahead include:
- Which of the above motions will be chosen for further debate on Monday 1 April?
- Will the DUP commit to support MV3 and if so will this be enough for the leading Brexiteer rebels within the Conservative Party to back the Withdrawal Deal?
- Will the Speaker of the House of Commons allow the Government to bring MV3 forward?
Ultimately, the chance of MV3 passing through Parliament is reliant on a number of factors all clicking into place and the past two years have shown that this rarely happens under the current PM. However, unless the Mrs May can call for a vote soon, the process may soon be taken out of her hands by the House of Commons. However, one thing remains clear, whatever the outcome of MV3 or the Indicative Votes, we are have now entered the end game of the May Premiership.