Brexit- Are We Finally Moving Forward?

MPs have today debated and voted on the selected amendments to the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

Copyright- We In This House

On the run-up to tonight’s events, there was heavy speculation on whether the Brady and Cooper amendments would be successful as both would significantly affect the next steps of the Brexit process. Here is what happened:

Voted For

  • The Brady amendment which attempts to make the backstop more palatable to Tory MPs, it says it should be “replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”. 317 votes for to 301 against – a majority of 16
  • Caroline Spelman’s amendment which stated that the UK will not leave the EU without a deal. 318 310. It is only advisory and has no legislative force, but still shows a consensus in the house against a no deal

Voted Down

  • The Labour amendment, which pushed the party policy of avoiding no deal and instead seeking a form of a customs union. 327 votes against to 296 for
  • The SNP/Plaid Cymru amendment that notes the Scottish and Welsh assemblies also “voted overwhelmingly to reject the prime minister’s deal”, calling for an extension of article 50 and no deal being removed as an option. 327 against votes to 39 for
  • The Grieve amendment which would have allowed parliament to take control in creating a series of indicative votes lost, 321 against and 301 in favour
  • Cooper amendment that would have guaranteed parliamentary time for a private members’ bill to extend article 50 to the end of 2019 if Theresa May failed to secure a deal by late February, perhaps the most prominent 321 against 298 for
  • Rachel Reeves’ amendment signed by a cross-party group of remain-minded MPs which would have sought a two-year extension of article 50 if there is not a deal in place by 26 February. 322 against, 290 for

Moving forward:
The Prime Minister will now go back to Brussels to ask for a significant change to the withdrawal agreement. Why is it prominent? The house has expressed what sort of deal they would like to see and the government now have a majority and a way forward. The Prime Minister also again called for Corbyn to come to Number 10 to speak with her, which the leader of the opposition finally accepted.
The EU has already suggested that the deal is not up for re-negotiation. The PM must now hold her nerve and live up to the ‘bloody difficult woman’ reputation if we are to see any more progress.

The run-up to the vote:
Monday night the ERG (European Reformists Group) announced they would most likely not back the Brady amendment, which called for Parliament to require the backstop to be replaced with “alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border” but would otherwise support the prime minister’s deal. However, as we know a day in politics is often all to play for.

The speaker selected seven amendments with the most prominent being, the Brady amendment which would seek to replace the controversial backstop with “alternative arrangements” to avoid a hard border in Ireland, and the Cooper amendment which seeks to rule out no deal. If successful the Cooper amendment would mean MPs would get a vote on extending Article 50 to the end of the year and preventing a no-deal exit under the terms of the Bill.

The government announced that the Brady amendment would fall under a three-line whip, meaning members of a political party must attend a parliamentary vote and to vote against the party line but will often result in an MP effectively being expelled from their party.

Both the ERG and DUP, the Conservative’s supply and demand partners, then announced that they would back the amendment showing a slight glimmer of light at the end of the Brexit stalemate tunnel.

Labour also announced that they would place a three-line whip on the Cooper amendment, although this announcement came with much hesitation.

Conservative supporter and Brexiteer Dom Jackman has said

After another frenzied day of voting in the Commons, two things are clear: Parliament would prefer there to be a deal, and Parliament does not like the backstop. Enter the Malthouse Plan. Using modern technology, border checks could be moved to before goods even enter the island of Ireland, with only spot checks to ensure compliance rather than building up border infrastructure between the Republic and Northern Ireland. It also provides for a Plan B, if negotiations fail, with an extended transition period until 2021. Named for Kit Malthouse, Minister for Housing and MP for North West Hampshire, this compromise has the backing of Brexiteers such as Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, but also of arch-remainer Nicky Morgan. Crucially, it is also backed by the DUP.

There is, in fact, a workable plan for Brexit. Now that the Brady amendment has passed, we can get to work on making it happen – provided the EU is willing to renegotiate. We are back to another game of Deal or No Deal, but this time, the EU must answer the question. So, Messrs Juncker and Tusk – what will it be?

Alongside the amendments, there has been a lot of interest in ‘the Malthouse Compromise’. This is a cross party-backed proposal that would mean the UK would leave the EU on the 29th March. It would entail an extension of the transition period from 2020 to 2021 and the redrafting of the Northern Ireland backstop creating free trade agreement style arrangement that would contain a commitment on all sides there should be no hard border on the island of Ireland.

According to Students for Brexit: “This would mean that the UK would still follow EU rules and pay into its annual budget. The purpose of this is to allow the UK and EU to effectively prepare for a WTO Brexit, or agree to a mutually beneficial future relationship.”

Whilst this proposal has received considerable interest, even from the big names of Brexit such as Jacob Rees Mogg, Ian Duncan Smith, and Nicki Morgan support, it is not yet an amendment. So, how far it will go we cannot truly say yet, however, it is likely that given the interest from the cabinet and those across the house it will go far.

The biggest obstacles facing the proposal are largely technical; for the proposal to be seriously considered, it must be put before the Commons. If this happens, it could transpire that the diversity of support may weaken once MPs realise what it means more specifically when the proposal is fleshed out with more detail.

Robert Langley

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