Morning Briefing: 1 million marched - government cracks deepen - extra time is priority
Around a million people were in London this weekend for the Put It To The People march. That makes it among the biggest demonstrations this country has ever seen. A huge thanks to everyone who made the journey - whether by train, plane or walking from Swansea. Even if you couldn’t make it, your continued support helped make Saturday happen.
This march wasn’t about pitting Parliament against the people - as the prime minister has tried to do. It wasn’t about Left versus Right. It wasn’t even about Leave versus Remain. It was a message sent from all parts of the country, by people of all political persuasions and none: this Brexit is broken and it must be put to the people.
If you want an idea of how loud that message was, this aerial footage from the BBC should give some idea.
The spectacular scenes on Saturday have begun to have an effect on the direction of politics as well. Most notably, the chancellor was on a Sky News sofa yesterday describing a new referendum as a “perfectly coherent proposition” which “deserves to be considered”. That’s a huge deviation from the government’s official Brexit policy.
Elsewhere, the influential chair of the Commons’ Brexit select committee Hilary Benn announced publicly during the march that he will be voting for a “confirmatory referendum” on Brexit this week. And Tory minister Mark Field, formerly a vocal supporter of Theresa May’s deal, has said he would be “happy” to revoke Article 50 entirely if it meant avoiding “utter paralysis” over Brexit. Of course, if Field thinks Brexit will be a damaging and not what people voted for he should back a People’s Vote. These shifts among key MPs will matter as Parliament attempts to take control of the Brexit process this week (more below).
Meanwhile Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer has suggested that his party could fight a snap general election with a manifesto pledge to put whatever Brexit solution emerges to a public vote. Starmer is well known to be on the more pro-European wing of his party, but the leadership has generally moved in his direction over recent months. The demonstration over the weekend will allow him to make an even stronger case that Brexit must be put back to the people.
So the march has not caused an earthquake in itself - one event was never likely to be decisive amidst this Brexit mess. But it has caused tremors and cracks are appearing. Last weekend could prove to be the moment the Brexit edifice started to crumble and fall down. That’s thanks to all of you who took to the streets to show that the “will of the people” cannot belong to just one side. Whatever happens in the coming weeks, Brexit must now be put back to the people.
Video of the Day
WATCH: Chancellor Philip Hammond tells Sophie Ridge on Sunday that a new referendum is a "coherent proposition" which "deserves to be considered" after one of the largest protest marches ever on Saturday.
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May heading for another u-turn?
Today’s Cabinet won’t see a coup against the prime minister, as some papers had speculated over the weekend. That scheme failed when the plotters couldn’t agree who should replace her. Instead, ministers will discuss two key issues: whether to try to get the government’s deal through the Commons this week and whether to get MPs to vote on rival ideas.
The answer to the first question seems likely to be “no” after Theresa May made no progress in talks with hardline Brexiters including Boris Johnson at a summit at her country residence in Chequers yesterday. Without their support, she won’t have any chance of getting a majority for her deal.
Meanwhile, the prime minister may be about to perform another u-turn - this time by letting MPs hold “indicative votes” on alternative ideas, something she previously resisted. But the details of what she is proposing are murky - and it is far from clear that this will be a good faith exercise to find a good Plan B. More likely, it will be an attempt to scupper plans by backbench MPs to take control of the Commons “order paper” to do something similar (see below). The key question is whether or not the government will commit to act on anything MPs decide. If not, it will be another time-wasting stitch-up.
Tweet of the Day
Priority is extra time not indicative votes
Many reports have said that an amendment pushed by a cross-party group of MPs today is calling for “indicative votes” on Wednesday. That’s not quite right. The amendment, in fact, calls for Wednesday to be set aside to discuss Brexit - leaving a blank canvass over what the Commons actually does on that day (see amendment a).
Indicative votes are not necessarily a solution to this crisis. It’s unclear which options MPs would get to vote on. Without more preparatory work, they could end up voting on unicorns such as a Canada-style deal - which is not negotiable with the EU because it is incompatible with the notorious “backstop”. Or they could vote on unspecified ideas such as a Norway-style deal. The Tory version, touted by Oliver Letwin, is not the same as Jeremy Corbyn’s version. If MPs back a vague version of Norway, they will be committing themselves to a blind Brexit.
A better option would be for MPs to take time to flesh out a robust Plan B. It needs to be specific and negotiable with the EU. There will also need to be sufficient time to do this. That will mean shifting the new April 12 cliff edge that the prime minister agreed in Brussels last week. Ensuring we get adequate time should be the priority for MPs. (Two amendments being proposed today c) and f) touch on this.)
Video of the Day 2
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Quote of the Day
“Walk tall. Keep the faith. Go back to your villages, your towns and your cities. Tell them you were here. Here, in Parliament Square. Outside the buildings that inspire parliamentary democracy. Fighting for our tomorrow. In peace. Secure. The bitterness and bloodshed of Europe’s past buried with its history.”
Former Conservative deputy PM Michael Hesseltine made one of the most powerful speeches on Saturday, You can watch it here.
It's clear that Brexit must be put to the people. Now is a crucial time to get involved with the People's Vote campaign. Sign up to volunteer today.
Mandarins and ministers braced for full public inquiry into Brexit (Sunday Times £)
Top Brexit comment
Voices from the march: ‘I'm fed up with hearing May talk about who voted to leave’ (Observer)
Editorial: Conservative crisis: made by Brexit (Guardian)
Katie Perrior: It’s time for May to name her departure date (Times £)
Today , Monday 25th March
|10.00||Extraordinary Cabinet meeting|
|lunch||Theresa May holding Brexit talks with Jeremy Corbyn
|15.00||Debate on Brexit deal in Lords|
|15.30||Theresa May statement to Commons on last week's EU summit|
|17.00||Debate on Brexit in Commons with amendments|
Expert evidence on local government and Brexit at Housing Communities and Local Government Committee
Tomorrow, Tuesday 26th March
|-||Amendable Brexit motion in Commons|