22 January 2019 | ANALYSIS
Yesterday, the Prime Minister returned to the House of Commons to update MPs on how the Government proposes to proceed with Brexit. Astonishingly, despite the historic defeat inflicted on Mrs May last week, nothing has changed.
The Government’s Plan B is the same as Plan A, with a few minor tweaks such as the scrapping of the £65 registration fee for EU citizens registering to stay in the UK. The Prime Minister is sticking to the same line that “the only way to avoid no-deal is to leave with a deal”. It is quite literally, Groundhog Day.
So, if it is the case that the Prime Minister and the Government is incapable of providing a proper Plan B which is not a carbon copy of Plan A, then the logical conclusion is that Parliament will have to assert its control and force the Government’s hand through a series of amendments. In the Commons yesterday, May ruled out a taking no-deal off the table, ruled out a second referendum, and ruled out extending Article 50. The reality is that one or more of these will be forced upon the Government.
It is likely that taking a no-deal Brexit off the table will be the first of these. Senior Labour and Conservative backbenchers, led by Yvette Cooper and Nick Boles, have tabled an amendment that would force the Government to give parliamentary time to debate Cooper’s new EU Withdrawal Bill. The Bill, if passed, would place a legal obligation on the Government to seek to delay Article 50 if it was unable to get a Brexit deal through the Commons by the deadline of the 26 February. This amendment would kill off May’s hope of avoiding an extension to Article 50 and diminish the possibility of a no-deal.
All the signs are that this amendment is likely to pass, which would further restrict the Government’s ability to manoeuvre. Thirty MPs have already signed their names to the amendment, and Labour have said that they would back any amendments that “seek to rule out no deal”. Not only are backbenchers in favour of removing the prospect of no-deal, so too are cabinet ministers according to Amber Rudd. She has warned that at least 40 ministers would quit if Mrs May tried to stop them voting to block a no-deal Brexit. It is therefore likely that no-deal will be taken off the table, despite Mrs May insisting that it is an integral part of her negotiating strategy.
Turning to a prospect of a second referendum, it is less likely that this would be forced on to the agenda by Parliament. As things stand, there simply isn’t a majority for a second vote in the Commons. 71 Labour MPs joined by 35 SNP and 10 Liberal Democrat MPs, with a sprinkling of remain Tory MPs – is not enough to command a majority in the House.
Labour’s official position, once and if it becomes apparent, will be an essential ingredient in breaking the deadlock. If the Labour leadership were to support an amendment which would bring about a second referendum, then it would almost certainly have enough support in the Commons to become a reality. However, Jeremy Corbyn is sceptical to the idea of a second vote and has indicated that the Labour position is to pursue a “Norway-style arrangement”. It will remain to be seen whether Corbyn can be convinced to pivot and support a second vote.
One thing for certain is that Parliament is asserting its control and taking away any remaining authority that the Prime Minister had left. Mrs May only has herself to blame. She has insisted that her deal is the only viable option, despite Parliament overwhelmingly telling her that it does not have its support. To come back and put the same deal on the table is an abject failure of leadership and totally void of reality. Parliament will now have to take over and identify a solution to this mess.
Jimmy Coles is Opinion Editor and Founder at Wolves of Westminster and a political consultant. Follow him on Twitter @JimmyJColes