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21 October 2019

Will MPs let the government ram through its Brexit deal in three days?

The DUP and ex-Tories have suggested they could oppose the government’s tight timetable for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. 

By Patrick Maguire

Ministers will attempt to ram the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the Commons in just three days, Jacob Rees-Mogg announced at the despatch box this evening. With its second reading kicking off tomorrow, the government intends to have all Commons stages of the bill finished by Thursday night. But might MPs deny them their accelerated timetable?

Crucial to the passage of the government’s programme motion tomorrow will be the 10 votes of the DUP, whose objections to the deal look insoluble. Arlene Foster’s MPs have made clear they will do all they can to obstruct the legislation’s passage — at least in its current form.  

Their chief whip, Jeffrey Donaldson, made clear to Rees-Mogg that their rearguard action will start tomorrow. He said of his proposed timetable: “What he’s proposing in terms of proper scrutiny of this bill does not do justice to what the constituents I represent need.”

Donaldson’s terse intervention as good as confirmed that the DUP cannot and will not support the programme motion as is. Others, including Ken Clarke, made clear they shared his concerns. 

Given the likelihood that the DUP and ex-Tories like Clarke will oppose the government’s timetable, it will need as many deal-inclined Labour MPs as possible to prioritise their desire to get Brexit done over their concerns about the shape of the future trade relationship with Europe that the deal sets out. That is far from a given.

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