Morning Briefing: Parliament takes back control - 'Norway' option means stricter rule-taking - more voters than ever against Brexit
The terms of the Brexit debate fundamentally shifted in our favour yesterday. First came the strongest signal yet from the EU that the the UK can withdraw Article 50 by itself at any point before our Brexit departure date. Then Parliament took back control from ministers, in a blistering threesome of defeats for the government in just over an hour.
Perhaps the most significant thing about all this is that now accidentally slipping into the chaos of a “no deal” Brexit looks much less likely. The government has long argued that the choice is between their deal and no deal. But the statement from the EU Advocate General shows the option of staying in the EU is still open to us, and that the far better deal we have negotiated with Europe over nearly half a century of membership would remain intact.
Two defeats which led to the government being held in contempt of Parliament were followed by a failed attempt to block an amendment from Tory pro-European Dominic Grieve. This gives MPs a powerful say on what happens if, as is expected, the prime minister’s Brexit deal gets voted down on Tuesday.
MPs from across the House - including Cabinet ministers - have now made clear that Parliament will not support a no-deal Brexit. As a new report from the People’s Vote campaign shows, the political and legal realities of this process mean it would be all but impossible for the executive to force “no deal” on MPs who are so clearly opposed to such an outcome.
More and more MPs are concluding that the government’s proposed deal is not what was promised two years ago, it’s a much worse deal than the one we’ve already got in the EU and, if approved would mean Brexit goes on forever because it leaves all the big questions unanswered.
The signs are that the Tory rebellion against the government’s Brexit is growing rather than diminishing. The latest to publicly oppose the deal is former chief whip Mark Harper. Meanwhile 26 Conservatives defied the government on Grieve’s amendment yesterday.
This amendment means that Parliament now has the power over what “Plan B” should be, once the government’s Brexit deal is rejected - and ultimately the logical, democratic choice will be to back a People's Vote. There’s no sign of that yet, but defeat for the government will force MPs to confront this question, and scrutinise unworkable alternatives like a general election and the "Norway" option. This should see many more backbenchers, and possibly the Labour Party, swing in behind a People’s Vote.
Parliament has taken back control. It must then give the final decision back to the public because, in the end, only the people can sort this out.
Quote of the day
“MPs are tonight starting the process of taking back control. No longer must the will of Parliament – reflecting the will of the people – be diminished. Parliament must now take back control and then give the final decision back to the public because, in the end, only the people can sort this out.”
Dominic Grieve on his amendment yesterday
Video of the Day
WATCH: Former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett delivers a powerful speech, backing a People's Vote on the government's Brexit deal. She's right to say that what was promised can’t be delivered and it’s a much worse deal than the deal we’ve already got.
Cabinet hopelessly divided
To understand how divided politicians are right now over Brexit, look no further than the divisions in Cabinet, reported by The Times. There are at least four positions, which will no doubt all be discussed in the next four days of Brexit debate.
Some pro-Brexit ministers, such as Chris Grayling, want May to return to Brussels to renegotiate the backstop - making it time limited to two years, and giving the UK a mechanism to pull out when it wants. But this won’t fly with EU leaders. That’s why other Brexiters, like Andrea Leadsom, are urging government to prepare for crashing out with no deal.
Meanwhile, the “soft-Brexiters” in Cabinet are eyeing up a solution a lot like Norway’s relationship with the EU. But even they are divided on how long the UK should be in such a situation. And that’s why some in government are already talking about a People’s Vote as the only way out.
Norway ‘plus’ stricter EU rule-taking
The “Norway Plus” idea took another battering yesterday, as EU officials said the UK would have to follow EU rules more strictly than Norway and its fellow EEA/EFTA members. In particular, the UK would not be allowed to delay the adoption of laws - something that currently causes tension between Brussels and EEA/EFTA countries. Given the size and proximity of the British economy, EU member states would regard the competition risks too great, one EU senior source told the Guardian. “With the UK we cannot accept such a slippage.”
Graphic of the Day
Audio of the Day
Dominic Grieve QC explains the implications of the advocate general's statement and argues that the other EU countries would give us time to have a People’s vote.
More voters than ever against Brexit
And some final good news for pro-Europeans: a YouGov poll for The Times revealed more of the public now think the UK was wrong to vote Leave than at any time since the 2016 referendum. The poll found that 49% thought the UK was wrong to vote to leave, while 38% believed that the UK’s decision was right. That’s 56% versus 44% once the “don’t knows” have been removed.
Most importantly, the poll showed that, with new facts now known about Brexit, 11% of people who voted to leave in 2016 now think that the country made the incorrect decision. Democracy is not about one vote, one time. If voters have changed their mind on such a monumental national decision, and it hasn’t been enacted yet, then they deserve a People’s Vote on Brexit.
Tweet of the Day
Students at University of Wales Trinity Saint David declare their support for a People's Vote.
More Brexit news…
BBC fails to agree Brexit debate format (Politico)
Hugo Dixon: There are two forms of ‘Norway’ Brexit: honest and sneaky (InFacts)
Nils Pratley: Mervyn King's call for no-deal Brexit fails to offer solutions (Guardian)
Sebastian Payne: Theresa May is still in office but not clearly in power (FT £)
Today, Wednesday 5th December
|-||Meaningful vote debate - day 2|
|11.30||Government to publish full legal advice on Brexit deal|
|12.00||Prime Minister's Questions|
Tomorrow, Thursday 6th December
|-||Meaningful vote debate - day 3|
|09.30||Brexit questions in Commons|