MPs will again vote on a series of options to break the Brexit deadlock. What’s up today?
Amendment A would amend the backstop so that the United Kingdom has a unilateral right of exit. It’s not all that likely to be selected as it doesn’t have any cross-party support and couldn’t be negotiated with the EU because a backstop that one member can exit unilaterally isn’t a backstop at all, and the EU wouldn’t agree to anything that put the interests of a departing member (the UK) over that of one that is staying inside the project (Ireland). Even if this were selected for vote, it wouldn’t pass the Commons, so it’d be of interest only as a measure of just how many Conservative MPs think this is an audience in their party worth playing to.
Amendment B would see the UK leave the European Union without a deal on 12 April. There’s no cross-party support for the amendment itself so is unlikely to be selected. If it is selected, it won’t pass.
Amendment C has been proposed by Ken Clarke to keep the United Kingdom in a customs union after Brexit. This came very close to passing the House last week but as it is opposed by all the anti-Brexit parties, it relies on Conservative abstentions and the very small pool of Labour hold-outs to get over the line. If this can’t pass today, then it will be a sign that nothing can get over the line in this parliament and will increase the chances of an election. Equally, if it passes, it will split the Conservative Party and increase the chances of an election.
Amendment D would keep the United Kingdom in the single market and customs union. This has to come from a lot further back than the customs union to get over the line, but will hope to do better than last time by squeezing some additional support from Remainers on the Labour benches.
Amendment E would put any deal to a public vote. There are two things to watch here: can it make inroads into the 69 Conservative MPs who voted to soften Brexit last week but did not back a second referendum, and can it hold onto every Labour MP who backed it last time? It’s difficult to see how it can pass unless the argument made by Phillip Lee, a pro-referendum Conservative, that it is the only way to avoid an election, has started to gain ground among his Tory colleagues.
Amendment F, in extremis, keeps open the possibility of a public vote to prevent no deal. Signed by Graham Jones, a Labour MP and Dominic Grieve, a Conservative, but has less chance of being selected than E.
Amendment G is a slightly softer version of SNP MP Joanna Cherry’s amendment to revoke Article 50 in the event that the United Kingdom faces the prospect of leaving without a deal, by committing to a vote on revocation if the United Kingdom gets to within a day and a half of exit day without passing a Brexit deal. It won’t pass but it’s worth seeing if it gets closer than Cherry’s first amendment last week.
Amendment H is George Eustice’s amendment to keep the United Kingdom in the single market and have a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea. This used to be the aim of old school Euroscepticism and it had some success in pulling over Conservative MPs who, like Eustice, voted and campaigned to Leave. (It also did a better job of attracting Tory support than any other amendment.) Now that a majority of ERG members and the DUP are decisively on different sides of the Brexit issue, it may get more support.
There is a very real possibility that none of these amendments will be able to get a majority, which will set up another day’s voting on Wednesday. But that central point about Amendment C is worth remembering – it is hard to see how any of these can secure a reliable parliamentary majority, and if they do then it sets up a collision between parliament and the government.