MPs to start 5 day Brexit Withdrawal Agreement debate

James Marshall
January 9, 2019

The prime minister's spokesman had indicated earlier on Tuesday that defeat on the amendment would not be "desirable", but that "the effect of the amendment on no-deal preparations would be inconvenience, rather than anything more significant".

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will open five days of debate in the Commons tomorrow before the Prime Minister wraps it up on Tuesday evening and MPs finally have their say.

In addition, the Northern Ireland executive would be given a role on the joint and specialised EU-UK committees established by the withdrawal agreement, if Northern Ireland-specific issues are to be discussed.

The Labour Party said it would try to trigger an election by calling for a no-confidence vote in the government if May's deal is defeated next week.

But Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the DUP, has already branded the proposals "cosmetic and meaningless".

May is also still seeking assurances on the operation of the backstop from European leaders, which she hopes to deliver before the vote next week.

Combined with a vote late yesterday when the government lost on the finance bill, the defeats underline May's precarious position in Parliament and the hard she will have in winning approval for her Brexit deal.

May called off the December vote at the last minute when it became clear that a majority of lawmakers - from the governing Conservatives as well as opposition parties - opposed the deal, a compromise that has left both pro-European and pro-Brexit politicians unhappy.

The 303 to 296 defeat highlights May's weak position as leader of a minority government, a divided party, and a critical parliament just days before she is due to hold a pivotal vote on whether to approve the Brexit deal she has negotiated with the EU.

The amendment, which was tabled by former cabinet ministers Yvette Cooper (Labour) and Nicky Morgan (Conservative), seeks to impose conditions to prevent the government from raising taxes in the event of the country crashing out of Europe with no deal with the EU.

Combining with the left-wing opposition parties, the European Union loyalists were able to pass the amendment in the teeth of Government and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) opposition, by 308 to 297. It passed by 308 votes to 297.

The opposition Labour Party said it will call for a vote of no confidence in the government if May loses on January 15.

Duff, who is now President of the Spinelli Group and Visiting Fellow of the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank, said that amending the political declaration may not be the only way to convince MPs to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement and avoid a no-deal Brexit.

There was a major row in the Commons over whether the amendment could even be put to a vote, with Speaker John Bercow apparently disregarding the advice of his own clerks that it could not.

Brexiteer Conservatives questioned whether Mr Bercow's decision should have been allowed under Parliamentary rules.

Six former cabinet ministers: Ken Clarke, Michael Fallon, Justine Greening, Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin and Nicky Morgan backed the amendment, as well as party grandees such as Oliver Letwin and Nicholas Soames, and Remainer rebels Jonathan Djanogly, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston.

Treasury minister Robert Jenrick said it is the " simple truth" that the United Kingdom would leave the European Union on 29 March, noting that planning for a no-deal scenario was "prudent preparation to provide our taxpayers with the certainty they deserve", adding that the only outcome of the amendment would be to make the United Kingdom "somewhat less prepared".

May insists Brexit will happen in March, but there is growing talk of delaying the two-year Article 50 exit process.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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