Morning Briefing: Nothing has changed - open to extension - NHS turmoil
Nothing has changed - except that the prime minister has wasted another precious two weeks. She scraped together a majority last night by promising a fantasy Brexit.
Theresa May knew even before she promised to reopen the withdrawal agreement and secure “significant and legally binding changes” to the notorious “backstop” that the EU would reject her pleas. Within minutes of the debate ending, the EU said: “The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement and the withdrawal agreement is not open for re-negotiation.”
Jeremy Corbyn’s agreement to hold talks with May will also come to nothing. The Labour leader doesn’t have a coherent Brexit plan any more than the prime minister does - and if she entertained his fantasies, she’d split her Conservative party.
The prime minister also promised yesterday to make a statement to MPs no later than February 13 - and put it to the vote the following day. If she proposes the same deal that MPs rejected two weeks ago, perhaps with a few tweaks, the hardline Brexiters and the DUP who supported her last night will be up in arms. But if she has nothing concrete to offer, MPs who don’t want to crash out of the EU with no deal will be dismayed.
The Commons voted against “no deal” last night when it backed Caroline Spelman’s amendment. There were many more MPs, including ministers such as Amber Rudd, who didn’t support Spelman because the prime minister promised they’d have another chance to do so by Valentine’s Day.
For the same reason, many MPs didn’t support amendments proposed by Dominic Grieve and Yvette Cooper. This was a shame but not a cause for hand-wringing, as I explained in this column for InFacts last night.
Because the prime minister has merely kicked the can for two weeks, a People’s Vote is still game on. When all forms of Brexit have been tried and found wanting, it will be the only sensible way forward.
Quote of the Day
“One has to keep in mind and respect the decision of the referendum, but that does not mean that you simply say that you’re going to drag the country out on terms that nobody seems to very much support towards a future which on the face of it looks pretty bad. And that is an abdication of our responsibility.”
Dominic Grieve speaks during yesterday’s Commons debate
Video of the Day
There’s not much time left to fix this Brexit mess. But MPs have still not confirmed whether they will be taking a half-term holiday next month, right after a key vote in Parliament. Sign InFacts’ petition to cancel the February recess here.
EU open to extension
The EU has made clear the backstop is not open for renegotiation. But Donald Tusk’s spokesperson did say last night that an extension was very much possible if the UK made a “reasoned request” for one. He said the EU would have to consider the “reasons for and duration of a possible extension” as well as its impact on the EU’s day-to-day activities. But the offer was very clearly there.
An extension is very likely where we’re heading because: a) MPs clearly hate May’s deal, for many more reasons than just the backstop, as the recent 230-vote defeat showed; b) a majority of MPs don’t want “no deal”; and c) it’s unclear what MPs do want and we’re wasting time pursuing Brexiter fantasies. It’s up to politicians to come up with a plan that the EU for which would agree to extend the Article 50 deadline. With all the alternative forms of Brexit unworkable, the best way forward is backing a People’s Vote.
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Which MPs need to shift?
Yesterday MPs voted against an extension. But the margins of defeat for Cooper’s binding amendment is not insurmountable in future - especially once we’re two weeks closer to the Brexit deadline and Theresa May once again returns empty handed from Brussels. But key groups of both Labour and Tory MPs still need to shift.
A small band of Labour MPs who didn’t back Cooper, keen not to be seen as “betraying” the Brexit vote, should eventually see that their alternatives are backing the Tory government’s failed deal or crashing out with “no deal” chaos. 14 Labour MPs voted against the amendment. Some of those are diehard Brexiters who are unlikely to budge, but others - such as Caroline Flint, Ian Austin or Gareth Snell - could be won round to the idea that an extension is the best thing for their constituents. A similar number of Labour MPs - for example Gloria de Piero and Melanie Onn - abstained. They are even more likely to back an extension as pressure builds.
On the Tory side, the dozen or so ministers who suggested they might resign if the prime minister didn’t take “no deal” off the table voted with the government last night. That’s because May promised them another vote in two weeks’ time. When May’s latest expedition to Brussels comes to nothing, we could even see cabinet ministers like Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke rebelling for an extension.
Tweet of the Day
OFOC summarises the situation: the government’s deal has already been defeated and the EU has ruled out renegotiation. The Brady amendment’s call to renegotiation the backstop won’t achieve anything.
Health service feeling Brexit strain
Meanwhile the Brexit uncertainty drags on across the country, and nowhere is feeling the pinch more than our health service. The latest flashpoint is around a decision by NHS Blood and Transplant to suspend blood donation sessions near the Channel ports for eight weeks around March 29, for fear Brexit-induced gridlock would stop their staff arriving and leaving. The Department of Health has ordered NHS chiefs to reverse the decision, The Times reports.
Separately, the chief of University Hospitals Birmingham has warned that, despite all the stockpiling medics are doing, drugs shortages were still likely to occur in a “no deal” Brexit due to “unprecedented” challenges. NHS staff had more than enough challenges before the Brexit vote. Now all their time is being taken up preparing for a doomsday scenario the government refuses to back down from.
Video of the Day 2
WATCH: Malcolm is a farmer. He believes a People's Vote with all the facts on the table is the only way forward because Parliament is in gridlock.
Top Brexit comment
Rafael Behr: May thinks she’s won. But the reality of Brexit will soon hit her again (Guardian)
Robert Shrimsley: Respite for Theresa May comes at price of appeasing Brexit ultras (FT £)
Today, Wednesday 30th January
|-||European Parliament holding its own Brexit debate|
|11.30||Northern Ireland questions in Commons|
|12.00||Prime Minister's Questions|
|PM||Sarah Wollaston’s Ten Minute Rule debate on the “requirements relating to withdrawal"|
Tomorrow, Thursday 31st January
|09.30||ONS: International trade in services, 2017|