If you thought the Brexit debate and vote on Tuesday 29th was another meaningful vote on May’s withdrawal agreement, think again. She first has to come up with something agreeable in Parliament before she can take it to the EU, get them to agree, and then take it back to Parliament. That one even confused me – I was half expecting Mrs. May to have returned yesterday with a new agreement that the European Union had found agreeable. Silly me for expecting the Prime Minister to work quickly.
It turns out the actual meaningful vote on whatever agreement Theresa May proposed has been delayed until February 13th, meaning she still has a little bit of time to get the EU to come around to new concessions on the backstop. Interestingly, though, Brussels officials have already said any such concessions would be “stupid.”
So what’s the vote? Well, it’s simply an opportunity for the House of Commons to vote on amendments that have been tabled…including amendments to amendments. These would be amendments to the withdrawal legislation, but it doesn’t mean that the European Union would agree to it.
The amendments include:
- Backstop amendments
There are two primary amendments from the Tories – specifically from Graham Brady and Andrew Murrison – which aim to make the backstop time-sensitive. The amendments would add an expiry date to the backstop of December 2021, or simply remove it from the withdrawal agreement altogether.
- Indicative voting amendments
These amendments try and give MPs more opportunities to vote on matters relating to withdrawal. One high profile amendment from Labour’s Hillary Benn sets out a plan for indicative votes on all Brexit options, while Dominic Grieve is putting forward a motion that says a further six days of debates should take place in February and March.
- “No Deal” amendments
The two main amendments put forward are from Yvette Cooper and Jack Dromey. I’ve talked about the Yvette Cooper amendment a little previously. She aims to give the Commons the power to pass a bill that would require May to request an extension to Article 50 if she is unable to get her deal passed through Parliament. The question now is – will Speaker John Bercow allow it to be voted on? And will Jeremy Corbyn let his party support it? It’s a controversial measure. The non-binding amendment from Jack Dromey and Caroline Spelman simply rejects no deal in principle. I don’t see what impact that’s going to have.
So the vote itself, on Tuesday, will really indicate Parliament’s feelings on the withdrawal legislation. It could also be a stepping stone towards Theresa May gaining support from the DUP and the Tories. The DUP have already said that they are considering supporting May’s agreement, and now even Brexiteer Boris Johnson is talking about it too. The former foreign secretary has said that he would support the Prime Minister if she is able to gain new concessions from the EU on a “freedom clause” in the withdrawal agreement, which would allow the UK to leave the backstop at will.
Tomorrow’s a big day, but it’s still not the end.