David Davis. Photo: Getty
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Is a “meaningful” Commons vote on the Brexit deal even possible?

MPs should have voted for proper control over the negotiating process in February 2016.

When is a meaningful vote not a meaningful vote? When the choice is between whatever deal Theresa May has cobbled together with the EU27 and no deal at all. But that's the choice that will be offered to parliament, David Davis confirmed yesterday.

To be blunt, I cannot think of anything less newsworthy the Brexit Secretary could have said in the House short of announcing that his first name was "David" and his last name "Davis". As longtime Morning Call readers will know, it was clear that in voting through Article 50 without amendments meant that parliament would surrender its most viable route to shape the government's negotiating objectives.

It's true that Theresa May has a troubling tendency to avoid parliamentary scrutiny wherever possible. But on this occasion, both Britain's unwritten constitution and the EU's I-can't-believe-it's-not-a-constitution aka the Lisbon Treaty also mean pretty clearly that there is not an option for a "meaningful vote" (that is to say, one that gives parliament a greater say over the outcome than "May's way or the cliff edge") on the final deal.

As far as the United Kingdom goes, the right to shape treaties has always been power that resides with the crown, rather than with parliament. You can say that this is a fairly big glitch in the Matrix and one that ought to have been attended to before we voted to trigger Article 50, and you'd be right. But MPs voted through Article 50 without having done so, so we are where we are.

Then as far as Article 50 goes, any deal has to be done not by March 2019 but by October 2018 in order to let the European parliament – and in those nations where the heads of governments must seek parliamentary ratification, national and regional parliaments too – ratify the agreement. Even then, it's not clear what happens if the European parliament or the Flemish legislature votes down the agreement – does it mean that negotiators start again or does it mean the United Kingdom crashes out with no deal? That's one reason why Theresa May should spend less time courting the British tabloids and more – that's more spelt "any" – winning friends in the European parliament.

A late amendment, put down by Yvette Cooper, seeks to bind the government to a meaningful vote and now we wait to see if enough Tory rebels will join with it to force the government's hand.

But even were it to pass, it is not at all clear when a vote would occur and be "meaningful". Would it be now, so that the British parliament could step in and demand that the government changes its approach to negotiations in order to achieve "sufficient progress" by December? In the event of talks still being deadlocked in March? Or in October 2018?

What MPs should have done is vote through meaningful control over the negotiating process in February 2016, rather than effectively cede control of the process entirely. (Even Labour's frontbench amendments, which would have been better than what we have, would simply have given parliament greater powers of scrutiny rather than meaningful levers to shape the outcome.)

The meaningful – that word again – levers that parliamentarians can actually pull aren't over a meaningful vote: they are its ancient powers to vote no confidence in individual ministers or in the government as a whole, to bind ministers' hands in negotiations beforehand or to revoke (or at least seek to revoke) Article 50. But seeking a fresh vote at the end of the process will guarantee that MPs remain little more than glorified spectators in the Brexit talks. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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Jeremy Corbyn may be a Eurosceptic – but he also wants to defeat the government

The Labour leader's big Brexit speech is likely to spell out a small, but significant change in the party's position.

All eyes are on Labour and its leader's big Brexit speech on Monday.

It's easier at this point to list the Shadow Cabinet ministers who haven't publicly called for the United Kingdom to remain in some form of customs union with the European Union after Brexit - Nia Griffith, the shadow defence secretary, became the latest minister to do so yesterday when she addressed the trade union Prospect. John McDonnell has described the party's position as "evolving". Is Jeremy Corbyn set to follow suit?

Well, sort of. One of the most commonplace mistakes people make at Westminster is to say that Labour's strategy and objectives for Brexit are unclear, but this isn't quite true. The leadership's strategy is to win the next election and its objective is as big a breach from the European Union as it can pull off while doing so.

He might have a new suit and be a dab hand at shareable videos, but underneath it all, Jeremy Corbyn is still the same man who voted against the constitutional underpinnings of the European Union in 2007, who told the New Statesman he hadn't "closed his mind" to backing Brexit. But while Corbyn is a Eurosceptic by instinct, he doesn't have religion on the issue. Foreign policy is his passion project and like most Labour MPs, he doesn't really regard the EU as "proper abroad". He knows, too, that his best opportunities to damage, defeat and ultimately replace the Conservative government will come over Brexit.

There is a concern in the leader's office that Monday's speech is already been overhyped. What I'm reliably informed will happen is a small, but significant change in the party's position that allows the Opposition to explain why it is voting against the government as far as the customs union goes. The real reason, of course, is that Team Corbyn think this is an area where they can defeat the government.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.