Morning Briefing: Nothing changes for May's Plan B - MPs take back control - Starmer narrows options
Theresa May has set herself up for another clash with exasperated MPs today. Having promised to deliver a “plan B” for Brexit after the 230-vote defeat of her “plan A”, it’s clear the prime minister will do no such thing in her statement to the Commons this afternoon.
Instead MPs might expect to hear a frantic splintering sound as the government scrapes the bottom of the barrel with growing desperation. During a conference call yesterday, May told Cabinet ministers her strategy remained to try to get concessions on the Irish border backstop from the EU and win over hardline Tory Brexiters and the DUP.
May is said to have told ministers her plan was to do “something” on the backstop, reports the Telegraph. Asked if it was something specific or just “anything”, she is said to have told them “the latter”.
One such “anything” proved a false start over the weekend. Liam Fox’s suggestion of an independent treaty with the Republic of Ireland dealing specifically with the border was quickly written off.
Instead, the government seems to be returning to its old trick of running down the Brexit clock to scare MPs into backing no deal. Cabinet officials believe that a new “meaningful vote” on any revised deal will not take place until the middle of next month, the Times reports. It would need to wait for talks with EU officials to finish, which could take at least a week. There would then be a week of debate in the Commons.
This is a reckless way to govern a country. It’s the product of the impossible challenge posed by Brexit, and a futile attempt to honour the contradictory promises made by the Leave campaign in 2016.
The other strategy gaining traction inside government, described in the Sunday Times, is to appeal to Labour politicians by moving towards a permanent customs union with the EU. It certainly shows a little more imagination than continuing to court the backstop-hating Brexiters. But this won’t work either. Even if May could get cross-party talks to work - and they seem to have broken down over the weekend - the Brexit hardliners would resist a customs union and the Labour leadership would be wary of condoning a Conservative-driven Brexit,
It’s clear that there is deadlock at every level: within government, within Parliament, between political parties and within them. But with 10 weeks until we are due to leave the EU, it is time for decisive action. If the politicians can’t break the logjam, then this choice needs to be given back to the people in a People’s Vote.
It's clear that the only way forward is a People's Vote. Now is a crucial time to get involved with the campaign. Sign up to volunteer today.
People's Voice campaign seeks change after People's Vote
A People's Vote must be different from the last referendum. And that starts by recognising that the 2016 vote was a turning point in the history of the UK.
Millions of people voted Leave because they concluded that the way Britain works does not work for them. They were right in their analysis of the country, but it is now clear that Brexit is not the solution. In fact, it will make it harder to deal with the challenges our country faces.
As we prepare to win the People’s Vote, we are scoping opportunities for how a new campaign can represent change, how it can address the deep-set problems of our age and heal the divisions - economic, regional, and cultural – that already scar the face of our country. In short, we want to discuss how a vote to stay in Europe can help tackle the causes of the Brexit crisis. Have your say here.
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MPs’ plans to take back control
The prime minister’s unwillingness to embrace either a softer Brexit or a People’s Vote will embolden MPs who want to take control of the parliamentary process. Two initiatives are underway - one led by Labour’s Yvette Cooper, the other by the Conservative’s Dominic Grieve. Both involve wresting control of the House of Commons agenda for a period to ram through emergency legislation or arrange debates in Parliament.
Cooper’s plan is to require the government to ask the EU for extra time so we don’t crash out of the EU with no deal on March 29 if MPs haven’t said yes to a deal by February 26. This is a much simpler version of the legislation proposed by Tory backbencher Nick Boles last week. The chances of it passing rose last night when a Labour shadow Brexit minister, Jenny Chapman, made clear on the BBC that she personally backed it.
Grieve’s plan is more complex and has several variations. In some, MPs would declare they don’t want to quit the EU without a deal and then allow smaller groups of MPs to propose alternatives. The former attorney general suggested at the weekend that his ideas may evolve in the coming days.
Whatever amendments are finally put to MPs when they vote on the government’s plan on January 29, there’s one essential point of principle: if the prime minister won’t do what Parliament wants, MPs have every right to take back control.
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Starmer narrows the options
Labour’s backing is crucial if we are to win a People’s Vote. Thankfully, the scope of the Opposition’s vague “everything on the table” Brexit stance seemed to narrow over the weekend. Keir Starmer said the choice now lay between instructing the government to negotiate a close economic relationship with the EU, based on a customs union, and a further public vote. He added that in such a vote, he would campaign to stay in the EU.
Jeremy Corbyn remains intent on pursuing the close relationship, customs union option. But the government is staunchly against this as it will alienate hardline Tory Brexiters. Cooperation between the Labour leadership and Number 10 has anyway proven a non-starter.
If Starmer’s binary choice for his party’s Brexit policy is correct, then it is only a matter of time before Labour throws its support behind a People’s Vote. What’s more, Labour’s members and supporters will not understand it if the party continues to hesitate at this moment of national crisis. Polling shows that three quarters of Labour voters and members support a People’s Vote.
Quote of the Day
“By charging a fee and by setting a time limit for applications the government is making it certain that some people will not get settled status.
“And with 3 million to 4 million people needing to register, that means creating tens or hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants overnight. The poor, the elderly, [and] those with illnesses or disabilities will be particularly affected as the government is failing to set aside enough resources to help them.”
Chai Patel, legal policy director at the joint council for welfare of immigrants, argues Brexit could see a repeat of the Windrush scandal
Real world impact of ‘no deal’ fear
Meanwhile, as politicians dither and delay, in the real world Brexit uncertainty is causing huge concern for businesses and in people’s lives. Recent warnings about the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal include: the Navy not being ready to deliver medicines; warehouses running out space for stockpiled goods; our trade deals with non-EU countries not being carried over; five million airline tickets at risk of being cancelled; and economic confidence plunging in boardrooms.
It’s perfectly in the gift of politicians - both in Parliament and in government - to prevent the chaos of a no-deal Brexit. But this political vacuum, easily filled by Brexiters’ loud insistence that it will be “just fine”, is already having a terrible effect. No deal is not fine, it’s catastrophic. Politicians need to quickly reach a firm plan of action to avoid it. The only way forward is a People’s Vote.
More Brexit news…
EU scorns No 10’s cliff-edge threat (Sunday Times £)
Top Brexit comment
Gordon Brown: Why we must delay Article 50 by a year (Guardian)
Hugo Dixon: Calling an election is a crazy idea (InFacts)
Dominic Grieve: Norway-plus equals no solution; the people should vote again (Sunday Times £)
Today, Monday 21st January
|09.30||ONS: Impact of shrinkflation on CPI|
Home Office questions in Commons
Theresa May statement to Commons on 'Plan B'
Tomorrow, Tuesday 22nd January
|09.30||ONS: Labour market stats|
|10.00||Michael Gove evidence to Lords on rural economy|
|10.30||Expert evidence on migration to Home Affairs committee|
|14.00||Sajid Javid evidence to Lords EU justice committee|