GTMC Brexit Update 3rd April
Breaking the Deadlock
Yesterday, following a marathon seven hour session of Cabinet, the Prime Minister emerged onto the steps of 10 Downing Street and announced that she would ask Brussels for a further extension to Article 50 and extend an olive branch to the Leader of the Opposition to agree a joint plan that can command a majority in the House of Commons.
This represents a dramatic change of course for the Prime Minister and while the Withdrawal Deal agreed with the EU27 cannot be reopened, an invitation to the Labour Party to help determine the future relationship will likely deliver a softer Brexit than previously anticipated and a complete reversal of many of the red lines set out in the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto.
Naturally many Brexiteers, represented predominantly by the hard-line European Research Group (ERG) have reacted furiously at the prospect of a further extension and Soft Brexit, while many others within the Conservative Party have warned that collaborating with Jeremy Corbyn will irrevocably split the Tories. Furthermore, there are conflicting reports as to how much support Mrs May has within the Cabinet for this new approach.
However, the Prime Minister has already insisted that she will not take the UK out of the EU without a deal and it is generally recognised that attempts to appease the ERG have reached their limits – with many of their number publicly declaring that they will never vote for the Withdrawal Deal under any circumstances. Similarly, the DUP continue to oppose the Withdrawal Deal, leaving this Prime Minister with no working majority and with no option but to turn to the Labour Party and seek a compromise which will see the deal passed.
The Labour Perspective
In his response, Jeremy Corbyn has agreed to meet with the Prime Minister and discuss a potential way forward. However, the Labour Leader will be forced to contend with his own mutinous factions.
If Mr Corbyn is seen to facilitate a Soft Brexit, it could hurt Labour’s chances in the Northern heartlands where frustration over the Government and Parliament grows. Equally, if he does not engage constructively in talks, remain-supporters will accuse him of enabling a Hard Brexit. Those who wish for Labour to deliver a Second Referendum might be disappointed too: Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey has said this morning that Labour would seek a commitment to a customs union but suggested that backing will not depend on a confirmatory referendum.
Whilst this offers a chance for Labour to prove that they are a credible alternative party of government, Mr Corbyn’s advisors will also be cautiously looking at how all of the above scenarios could play out in a General Election, as there is a fear the Prime Minister is setting a “trap” to lay the blame for a failed Brexit with Labour.
Indicative Votes Runoff
Given the deep seated differences which exist within the Conservative and Labour Parties to agreeing a joint approach, it remains likely that talks may simply collapse in the days ahead. If this should happen, Mrs May has promised to offer the House of Commons the option of voting on a series of Brexit outcomes – including her own Withdrawal Deal – with a guarantee that she will abide by the will of the House, so long as the Labour Party reciprocates.
While these developments would normally be dramatic enough for one week, yesterday the same cabal of Backbench MPs responsible for the Indicative Votes process tabled a new Bill designed to mandate the Government to seek a lengthy extension to Article 50. With only 9 days left before the UK leaves the EU on 12 April this would normally not be enough time for Parliament to scrutinise and debate new legislation. However, the Speaker, ever one to upset expectations, has expressed a willingness to rush the Bill through all four stages when it is laid before Parliament on Thursday 4 April – meaning that it could become law by the end of the week.
The above represent a huge number of moving parts to keep track of. However, in terms of the key things to monitor in the days ahead:
- The joint talks between Mrs May and Mr Corbyn will begin today. It is hoped that they will be concluded by the weekend, so as to provide notice as to the intentions of the UK ahead of the next EU Council meeting on 10 April.
- The Government will then request an extension of Article 50 to 22nd May. This is the extension date originally promised by the EU, but only on the condition that the Withdrawal Deal was passed by Parliament.
- Should the negotiations breakdown the Prime Minister has promised to give Parliament a runoff vote which she will abide by. This may take place next week.
- The Backbench cabal led by Oliver Letwin and Yvette Cooper will today attempt to carve out Parliamentary time to lay their Article 50 extension Bill before Parliament this Thursday.