Countdown to Brexit: 79 days – 2 defeats for the Government changes “What Happens Next”
In the last 24 hours, two groups of cross-party MPs proposed and won a vote on 2 separate amendments. The Government had seen neither of them coming. One impacts on the options available – and the other on the expected datelines.
Two days ago, we set out the Brexit options open to the UK and the decision dates – using a Parliament Library brief on constitutional precedence and legal requirements. The dates were based on working back from Brexit on 29 March - and allowing the time needed to complete the option according to legal or constitutional timetables.
What was the expected position?
15 January 2019: A meaningful vote in the House of Commons on whether – or not – to accept the Government’s Brexit deal.
21 January 2019: If no agreement has been reached on the Withdrawal Agreement and/or Political Declaration, a Minister of the Crown must make a written statement within 5 calendar days on what the UK will do by way of a Brexit “plan B” - that is, no later than 26 January. The motion must then be moved within a further 5 sitting days - meaning Parliament would be asked to debate the Government’s intended course of action - that is, no later than Monday 4 February.
Impact of the two votes
If Theresa May loses the vote to accept the ‘deal’ in Parliament next Tuesday – she has just 3 days to lay down her Brexit “Plan B”.
This came less than 24 hours after another Government defeat in the Commons. Last night, MPs voted to limit the Government’s ability to raise taxes in the event on a no-deal Brexit.
Wednesday 9 January: Former Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve MP, championed an amendment to a ‘Parliamentary business motion’ to accelerate the Brexit timetable - and potentially prevent Mrs May from ‘running the clock down’ and engaging in Parliamentary brinkmanship. The Prime Minister’s team had expected the amendment to be discarded for procedural reasons. But the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, ruled that MPs should have the chance to vote on it.
Brexiter MPs have accused Bercow of ignoring Parliamentary precedent. Conservative MP, Peter Bone said that putting forward an amendment would be “totally out of order”. The successful amendment ensures that May is not allowed to delay – and thus increase the chance of a no-deal Brexit.
The Commons voted 308 to 297 in favour of the amendment - a defeat of 11 votes for the Government. Grieve said that: “This shows the urgency and the determination of the Commons.” author of the amendment.
The setback is the Government's seventh Commons defeat since July 2017.
Tuesday 8 January: Yvette Cooper MP put forward a Commons amendment to the Finance Bill designed to make a no-deal exit harder by limiting the Treasury's ability to raise certain taxes without the explicit consent of Parliament post Brexit. Cooper said although it would not block a no-deal exit, it "set a precedent" and showed MPs would not allow the UK "to just drift into it by accident". MPs backed the amendment 303 to 296 votes – with former cabinet ministers Michael Fallon, Justine Greening, Dominic Grieve, Ken Clarke and Sir Oliver Letwin among the 20 Conservative MPs who defied the government.
It came as MPs were about to resume the postponed debate on the Withdrawal Agreement – and Bercow's decision to even allow an attempt to change the rules on the "meaningful vote" debate is no mere technicality. In the event the PM loses next week, the Commons will then have a chance to vote on alternative policies - everything from a "managed no-deal", to a "Norway option", to an adjusted version of the current ‘deal’ – or even a further referendum.