Morning Briefing: MPs take control, again - chief whip on Tory turmoil - May's 4th attempt
MPs will take control of Parliament’s Brexit business again today, with several more motions (currently eight) tabled for debate and possible “indicative” votes this evening.
It’s good to see politicians from all parties getting stuck into this long-overdue process to find a Brexit outcome that is both viable and capable of attracting widespread support. But all of these options are still very far from the promises of the 2016 referendum. Whichever compromise MPs can settle on should therefore be put back to the people.
After almost three years of Brexit wrangling it is clear that any option will be a compromise, will leave us economically worse off and probably following many EU rules without a say, and produce years more uncertainty. It’s only fair that once MPs have found their favoured Brexit outcome they check the people actually want it.
That’s exactly what a motion tabled by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson demands: putting the final Brexit choice to the people in a confirmatory referendum.
Meanwhile, many of the expected frontrunners among today’s “soft Brexit” options have their own problems. These ideas are not yet mature. The proposals need to be specific and clear, and they also need to be deliverable.
Take the demand for a “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU” being spearheaded by Tory grandee Ken Clarke. As a broad idea it’s probably deliverable, but the motion as it stands is incredibly vague - as I’ve explored in more detail for InFacts here.
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Then there’s the “Common Market 2.0” plan from Nick Boles. This has shifted once again since it was tabled last week. Some of the less deliverable parts of the original plan have been watered down or vanished completely. For example, freedom from EU farming policy has turned into agreeing on “relevant protocols” for “frictionless” agri-food trade. Any mention of “new powers” over immigration has disappeared completely.
Perhaps most importantly, all these “soft” Brexit options need to be clear that they involve keeping the current Withdrawal Agreement that Theresa May has already agreed with the UK - including divorce payments and the Irish border backstop.
EU officials have criticised the indicative votes process as “a bit detached from how the reality looks in EU27 capitals”, reports the FT. They’ve already said they are willing to alter the Political Declaration - the second part of the Brexit deal which looks to our future relationship, and which any of the above options would need to change if they are to become reality. But for now - with another deadline looming on April 12 - the basic option is between accepting the Withdrawal Agreement or asking for a long extension.
EU leaders are unlikely to agree to an extension if they think they’ll just be messed around some more as the UK fails to make a decision. They will want a concrete plan going forward - and parliamentary support for an ill-formed soft Brexit option might not cut it.
But there is one idea on the table which could convince them: the plan for a confirmatory referendum. MPs should back this.
Video of the Day
WATCH: Tom Watson on the Marr Show on how Labour are coming together as 80% of their MPs back a People’s Vote and why this is the solution to the Brexit crisis.
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Chief whip denounces Cabinet chaos
Chief whip Julian Smith has made a public intervention, uncharacteristic of his behind-the-scenes role, to call out the “worst example of ill-discipline in Cabinet in British political history”. Smith’s comments, in an interview with the BBC, shine a light on Theresa May’s total lack of control over her ministers. He also appears to blame shortsightedness in May’s administration for not realising that the loss of the Conservative majority in 2017’s general election would mean pursuing a softer Brexit path rather than the dogmatic “red lines” which have provoked so much opposition until now.
The product of this chaos is plain to see. Instead of focusing on how to fix the country, top-level Conservatives have spent the weekend indulging in a phoney war for the leadership when May departs, and arguing over whether a general election is a good idea or “suicidal”. Brexit was always destined to be messy, but this government has turned it into a crisis.
Quote of the Day
“The government as a whole probably should have just been clearer on the consequences of [losing the 2017 election]. The parliamentary arithmetic would mean that this would be inevitably a kind of softer type of Brexit.”
Theresa May’s own chief whip criticises his government’s shortsightedness on Brexit.
Tweet of the Day
Led By Donkeys have been putting up more posters. This one shows something Jacob Rees-Mogg said in the Commons - what changed?
May the 4th be with you?
Looking forward in the week, Theresa May is reportedly considering to bring her deal back to the Commons for a third (fourth?) time. Based on Friday’s defeat of half the deal by 58 votes, she will want to win over the remaining 34 Conservatives rebels. That’ll be tough. The bulk of this number is ERG hardliners who refused to budge last week - and as Mark Francois pleasantly put it: “I wouldn’t vote for it if they put a shotgun in my mouth.” It’s hard to step back from comments like that.
The DUP also look unlikely to switch, with Brexit spokesperson Sammy Wilson saying his colleagues wouldn’t vote for the deal if May put it to the Commons “a thousand times”. The prime minister will also be disappointed in Labour MPs on Friday, with only two extra shifting behind her deal.
MPs shouldn’t buckle. This deal has been voted down three times now for a reason - it is bad. It leaves us poorer, sets us up to take EU rules without a say and would mean years of uncertainty as we thrashed out our future with the EU - quite probably with a more right-wing Tory prime minister at the helm.
Video of the Day 2
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Cost of Brexit already at £360m per week
The UK economy is 2.5% smaller than it would be if the UK had voted to stay in the EU, new analysis up to December 2018 from the Centre for European Reform shows. The knock-on hit to the public finances is £19 billion per annum – or £360 million a week.
These costs are a result of uncertainty about our future relationship with the EU, gridlock in Westminster and damaged growth, largely thanks to higher inflation and lower business investment. The UK also missed out on a broad-based upturn in growth among advanced economies in 2017 and early 2018, the CER reports.
All Brexit options currently being considered would hit our economy further. They would also mean years more uncertainty. The best deal available to us now is staying in the EU, and the most democratic way to do that is put it to the people.
Top Brexit comment
Matthew d’Ancona: Give the people a final say: the case for a referendum is far stronger than in 2016 (Guardian)
Nigel Dodds: The voters got it right on Brexit. But we joined as one - so we must leave as one (Telegraph)
John Harris: Petitions and jokes will not halt this march into Brexit calamity (Guardian)
Today, Monday 1st April
|-||MPs debate e-petition to revoke Article 50|
|-||Second round of indicative votes on Brexit options|
|14.30||Home Office questions in Commons|
Tomorrow, Tuesday 2nd April
|-||MPs to discuss censuring Vote Leave chief Dominic Cummings for refusing to give evidence to “fake news” inquiry.|
|09.30||ONS: Manufacturing sector performance 2008-2018|
|11.30||Foreign affairs questions in Commons|