This update was sent to constituents on 26th February 2019:
What an extraordinary couple of weeks it has been in British politics.
The big news this week is the Labour Party’s pivot to supporting a public vote with an option to remain, on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. Of course, the possibility of supporting a public vote was always on the cards after last year’s unanimously passed party conference motion however, it is no secret that some close to the leadership had been against this. This is a very big win for those of us who have been making these arguments from within the party for years. I am glad we are now there and we must now redouble our efforts to win the majority in parliament that we know we can get.
The exact form this commitment will take is yet to be agreed, however a briefing sent out by the Parliamentary Labour Party last night said the following:
“Q. Will Labour support the Kyle-Wilson amendment? (Which would provide conditional support for the Prime Minister’s deal on the grounds that it is then put to a referendum)
“If our frontbench amendment is defeated this week, we are committed to putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote that can prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country.
“We’re working with Peter and Phil on this and we will support an amendment that is consistent with this approach.
“Q. What would be on the ballot paper in any such public vote?
“We’ve always said that any referendum would need to have a credible Leave option and Remain. Obviously at this stage that is yet to be decided and would have to be agreed by Parliament.”
I was on Scotland Tonight last night to discuss the Labour Party’s support for a People’s Vote. You can watch it here.
We must now persuade enough Conservative MPs to vote for a public vote. The parliamentary arithmetic is very difficult but we now have a real chance.
Prime Minister Statement 26th February
Today the Prime Minister gave a statement to the House of Commons on the progress of her “negotiations”. You can watch her statement here.
It is clear the Prime Minister is simply running down the clock. The Withdrawal Agreement is not being reopened and any tweak to Irish backstop in the political agreement which she manages to secure will not be enough to bring all of her party on side.
The most important part of her statement was a commitment to have a meaningful vote on her deal by 12th March. If this is rejected there will be a further vote by 13th March on whether to proceed with no-deal, if this is rejected there will be a vote on 14th March to extend Article 50 for a “short and limited” time up to the end of June.
This is basically a carbon copy of the much discussed Cooper/Letwin amendment. However, as we have seen multiple times during this process, the Prime Minister has had no truck with going back on her word. That is why tomorrow I will be supporting efforts to force the Prime Minister to keep to the commitments given today.
Indeed, I pressed the Prime Minister on which way she would vote on no deal and an extension today. You can watch my question here.
This change in position was of course in response to three serving Conservative Ministers writing an op-ed in the Daily Mail calling for the Prime Minister to rule out a no deal Brexit and threatening to resign from her Government. You can read more about this here.
Whilst this move is welcome and would remove the short term cliff edge it would just be another exercise in can kicking. The Government cannot get its flagship policy through the House of Commons, therefore we still require a People’s Vote to sort this mess out once and for all.
Next steps in Parliament
27th February – The Government has committed to moving an amendable motion on the next steps on Brexit. This will likely be another motion which will ‘take note’ of the progress the Government has made with the EU in addressing MPs concerns around the backstop.
MPs will be able to table amendments once the motion has been tabled.
We don’t yet know which or how many amendments will be selected, however I have provided a list of the most important below:
- Cooper/Letwin amendment – says that if Parliament hasn’t approved a deal by 13 March, the Prime Minister must choose to either move a motion which says that the House approves leaving the EU without a deal, or a motion which says that the House agrees to the Prime Minister seeking an extension of Article 50. If the Prime Minister chooses the first, and it is voted down, she must then move the second.
This is slightly different from the Cooper/Boles amendment which lost by 23 votes last month in that it doesn’t involve suspending Standing Order 14 which gives Government business precedence in the House.
I would have voted for this amendment but because of today’s development’s it has been pulled.
- Alberto Costa amendment – this would require the Government to implement the aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement relating to citizens’ rights (EU nationals) regardless of the outcome of the negotiations or meaningful vote.
I WILL VOTE FOR THIS AMENDMENT
12th March – The Prime Minister last week kicked the ‘meaningful vote’ can further down the road by delaying a vote on her Withdrawal Agreement until 13th March. This was altered slightly by today’s announcement which changed that date to the 12th March.
Nonetheless, this is a reckless gamble with the UK economy. We already know that business uncertainty is forcing businesses into contingency planning and they are moving parts of their businesses and operations to the EU. I raised this in the House of Commons last week, you can watch my question here.
If you are interested in the legislation required to facilitate a no deal Brexit the House of Commons Library have complied a useful briefing. You can view it here. As you will see the Government is nowhere near implementing the required legislation, making a no deal an even more chaotic prospect.
If the Prime Minister cannot pass her Withdrawal Agreement we will move for a People’s Vote with an option to remain. This would also require an extension to Article 50 which we know the EU would accept.
If all of these options fail we would follow the process outlined in the PMs speech today and have binding votes on a no-deal and then an extension to Article 50.
There has been much talk about the “Kyle/Wilson” amendment. This is a compromise brought by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson that would allow the PMs deal to pass parliament in return for an affirmation public vote. The vote would be on her deal and if it was rejected the status quo would be accepted. The result would become law at the very moment the official result is announced to prevent a neverendum scenario. This was the process used to affirm the Good Friday Agreement when there were referenda in the north and south of Ireland. As soon as the result was announced the international treaty was lodged and it became law in the UK and Ireland.
I will back this amendment when it is brought at the next meaningful vote stage on 12 March or earlier.
P.S. A massive thank you to everyone who attended my Brexit event at the Church Hill Theatre. You can watch the event, including Gordon Brown’s speech, here.