Morning Briefing: "Indicative votes" day - spineless Brexiters - soft Brexit now more vague
Today is the day the government loses control - at least of parliamentary business. MPs have tabled amendments proposing a series of Brexit options that will be voted on at around 7pm tonight. There are 16 different amendments at the moment, and we won’t know which will be selected for the final votes by the Speaker until about 4pm.
One of the most interesting amendments for People’s Vote supporters is the so-called “Kyle-Wilson” amendment (which has actually been tabled by Margaret Beckett). This calls for a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal that gets through Parliament. It’s rather out of place here, however, since a referendum is not actually a Brexit outcome like many of the other amendments - it’s a process that helps the UK reach a decision on the outcome.
The thing to watch here is whether Labour whips for the amendment or not. The Times suggests they might, though shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner denied it this morning. If Labour were to whip for the amendment, that’s a big shift in the party's Brexit policy that suggests any Brexit deal - including their own alternative plan - should be put to a public vote.
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Many of the advocates of alternative Brexit proposals are motivated by a genuine sense of the national interest and the need to prevent the deep damage that a no-deal Brexit would do to our economy and society. It is surely right that these options are given serious consideration but, equally, that they are also subject to the same minimal standards of scrutiny that led so many MPs to conclude they could not support the government’s Brexit plan.
The indicative votes process that begins today in the House of Commons could mark the start of that process, with MPs assessing the viability of options such as “Common Market 2.0” and Labour's proposals and weighing them up against the promises that were made in 2016. However, it would be unrealistic to think that Parliament could do all this and then commit to a particular form of Brexit during the course of an afternoon, or even during the course of a few days or weeks.
Such monumental decisions – which will have profound implications for our country for generations to come – cannot be made in haste without any input from either the EU or, indeed, the people of the UK.
It is for precisely this reason that there is growing support in Parliament for the principle that the public must have the final say over any Brexit outcome.
Video of the Day
WATCH: "So I say to all of you, walk tall. Go back to your villages, your towns, your cities and you tell them, 'I was there.'" Lord Heseltine's stirring keynote address to the Put it to the People March on Saturday.
Hard Brexiters misplace their spines
An increasing number of hard Brexiters say they are prepared to vote for Theresa May’s deal, despite months of complaints that the deal is “rotten”, “dead” and would turn the UK into a “colony”. Didn’t they used to want to take back control?
Jacob Rees-Mogg has already thrown in the towel, saying he’ll back the prime minister’s deal if the DUP does as well. Boris Johnson has hinted he may too. Both say they are worried that, if they don’t back the deal, the country may end up with a new referendum and no Brexit at all.
They are running scared of the people. If they had confidence in their case, they would take it to the people. But they know they would lose. They know their hard Brexit is bankrupt - and so they may back a deal that would turn us into rule takers instead.
Johnson doesn’t yet appear to have made up his mind. Earlier this week he accused the prime minister of “bottling it”. In his column in today’s Telegraph he accused the government of being “spineless” but didn’t actually say what he’d do. If he now backs the deal, he will be the bottler-in-chief, a spineless invertebrate to outdo all others.
Having failed to get any change to the government’s deal, Johnson and other hard Brexiters are hoping to change the prime minister and replace her with one of her own. There is speculation that she may announce her departure this evening in order to clinch their support. That may serve the narrow political interests of their faction in the Tory party. But it won’t serve the national interest.
Serious divisions have been exposed amongst the supporters of a hard Brexit. The DUP are said to be worried that any future Conservative leader will chuck them overboard and take up the option of a Northern Ireland only backstop.
Moderate English and Welsh Tories who are also looking worried. Many would prefer even closer relations with the EU than the prime minister has negotiated. But a hardliner would try to take us further away from the EU, causing even more economic damage.
Labour MPs - even Brexit enthusiasts - seem unimpressed. The prime minister has dangled various promises about workers rights and cash for their constituencies in an attempt to win them over. These promises are pretty worthless as they stand. If May goes, it’s hard to see how anybody could believe them.
Quote of the Day
“It’s like rats in a sack on the WhatsApp group today. Everyone is turning on each other.”
A glum Brexit-backing Tory confides in the Guardian
Tweet of the Day
This from European Council president Donald Tusk this morning - urging politicians in Brussels to give the UK more time.
Common Market 2.0 = Norway Plus Uncertainty
Another important vote will be on amendment D, the soft-Brexit idea known as “Common Market 2.0” - the successor to the “Norway Plus” model. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this amendment is that it seems to have morphed somewhat from the original proposal - which Luke Lythgoe picks apart for InFacts here.
The wording of the amendment now contains even more uncertainty. The plan now means being in a “comprehensive” customs arrangement with the EU “at least” until alternative arrangements are agreed. So, in the long term, do we have control of our trade policy or not? It’s unclear.
The unrealistic promise to only pay half our EU membership fee, ditch the role of the European Court of Justice and have an independent agriculture and fisheries policy have all disappeared. And a key point of the original plan - “new powers” over EU immigration - has been considerably watered down. The amendment now only demands that migrants must be “genuinely seeking work” and have “sufficient resources not to become a burden on the UK’s social assistance system”. These terms can be enforced without leaving the EU at all.
If Labour backs this model, as The Times suggests it might, then that also raises questions about where Jeremy Corbyn’s desire to have a say on future EU trade deals and exemptions from state aid rules has gone. It all amounts to this soft Brexit option is now being incredibly vague - MPs should be wary.
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For whom the division bell tolls
While the way Labour whips on today’s “indicative” votes will be revealing, the decision for Theresa May means just more misery from her divided government. The prime minister has been warned that 20 pro-European ministers will quit if they don’t get a free vote today, the Telegraph reports. Remember, three already went during the vote to set up today in the first place. But there’s been push back from other minister who fear it’s a slippery slope to backing a softer Brexit. If that happens, attorney general Geoffrey Cox says, it would be a “matter of honour” for the government to hold a general election. May’s premiership is falling apart at the seams.
Oliver Letwin: the unlikely Brexit rebel (Guardian)
Top Brexit comment
Marina Hyde: Get set for Brexit: Indicative Day – the one where the Grand Wizards turn on each other (Guardian)
Rosie Duffield: We cannot allow Brexit vitriol to put women off politics (Times £)
Rafael Behr: To avert this Brexit disaster, MPs must smash the party system (Guardian)
Today, Wednesday 27th March
|08.00||Jean-Claude Juncker addresses European Parliament on last week's EU summit|
|09.30||Karen Bradley at Commons' Northern Ireland affairs committee|
|12.00||Prime Minister's Questions|
|13.00||MPs take control of Commons order paper (vote on procedure at 15.00)|
|15.30||Speaker selects amendments for "indicative" votes|
|17.00||Theresa May addresses 1922 backbench Conservative committee|
|19.00||MPs vote on different Brexit options|
|19.30||MPs debate whether to extend Article 50 in line with EU summit agreement (voting at 21.00)|
|21.15||Speaker announces results of "indicative" votes|
Tomorrow, Thursday 28th March
|-||Government back in control of Commons order paper|