On Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court ruled that it should be Parliament, not the government alone, which triggers Article 50 and begins Brexit negotiations. Later that morning, Brexit secretary David Davis appeared in the Commons.
Flanked by the Prime Minister, Davis declared “this will be the most straightforward bill possible” that would be passed “in good time” to meet the deadline of the end of March 2017.
The bill would simply give the government the power to invoke Article 50, he said, and said that no one should try to frustrate the legislation.
His opponents worry that Davis is trying to strip down the bill to something that MPs will be unable to amend or properly debate. But if they get the chance, here’s what they are planning:
Pro-Remain Tories like Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan are focusing their efforts on trying to open up a window for debate. In particular, they are pressurising the government to release a white paper – in essence a detailed Brexit plan. MPs from other parties are likely to back them, and the SNP has specifically tried to include this as an amendment. This is also what the campaigners who originally took the government to court are now asking for.
The Labour leadership is not going to keep Theresa May up at night, with its pledge to vote for Article 50. But her Brexit minister David Davis may nevertheless find himself forced to spend more time in the Commons. True to its stance of not standing in the way of Brexit, Labour has disdained the amendment-happy approach of the SNP and instead picked a few amendments based on scrutiny and accountability.
However, Labour back benchers from pro-Remain seats may not be so amiable. Backbenchers opposed to Article 50 are waiting to see what their leadership does, but will not rule out “holding hands with the devil to cross the bridge”, as one Labour insider put it – whether this is the SNP or the rebel Tories. While a small minority of Labour MPs voted against the motion before Christmas which stipulated Article 50 should be triggered before the end of March, some reckon there are others “keeping their powder dry” (the December motion also called for a Brexit plan).
Tulip Siddiq, a London Labour MP representing the pro-Remain constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn, told The Staggers she was looking for reassurances on access to the single market, the relationship with the customs union, protection of worker’s rights and the environment, and EU nationals’ right to remain.
The Liberal Democrats
Separately, the Liberal Democrats are seeking three main amendments – single market membership, rights for EU nationals and a referendum on the deal, which is a “red line”. If there is not a second referendum, the Lib Dems will vote against Article 50.
Despite being the Lib Dems’ position as the most UK-wide anti-Brexit voice, neither the SNP nor Labour managed to co-ordinate with them in the aftermath of the court ruling.
Indeed, the Lib Dems look set to vote against Labour’s tariff-free amendment on the grounds it is not good enough, while expecting Labour to vote against their demand of membership of the single market.
The tartan army was quick off the mark with the declaration it would table 50 amendments, in what seems to be an attempt to bore the Brexiteers to death. These include a call for a white paper to be published, which almost everyone outside the government agrees with, but also a need for the government to get unanimous agreement on the Joint Ministerial Committee, which includes representatives from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The SNP may get support from the Lib Dems and Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, on individual amendments. Like the Lib Dems, the SNP will vote against Article 50.
The SNP’s second line of attack is, of course, independence, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon airily asking: “Is it better that we take our future into our own hands?” However, this threat is looking hollow – support for independence was at just 44 per cent in December.
Other pro-Remain parties
Caroline Lucas, the only Green MP, is likely to be in demand from MPs looking for cross-party support for their amendment. Lucas plans to back those she agrees with, and also table her own amendment on the environment.
The three Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru MPs will also be tabling amendments, and will be supporting other parties in their amendments too.