Tomorrow’s Brexit vote is looming, but parliament is no less divided

Many Labour MPs remain uneasy about voting for Yvette Cooper’s Article 50 extension without a plan for how to use it.


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Will parliament get any closer to working out what it wants this week?

Yvette Cooper’s amendment to seek an extension if no accord has been reached by the end of February has been boosted by the support of Nicola Sturgeon but faces an uphill battle to pass the House of Commons, with many Labour MPs privately uneasy about voting for an extension with no plan for what to do with it. (One MP I spoke to yesterday complained that they had had no answer to the question of what the government would do with the extra time, which made their constituents suspicious that it was a plot to stop Brexit.)

The government is meanwhile hoping that an amendment tabled by Graham Brady will allow it to argue that a Brexit deal could pass parliament with the removal of a backstop. But the problem is that no Brexit accord that doesn’t include some Brexiteer heresy –whether that’s a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea or for the whole of the United Kingdom to remain in the customs and regulatory orbit of the European Union – is going to pass muster on the other side of the table. It’s also not clear that the Brady amendment can pass the Commons either as Conservative objections to the deal don’t end with the backstop. And even if it were to pass, it simply underlines the problem rather than resolves it.

The biggest problem of all is that all this means is that we have a pretty good idea that by Wednesday morning we’ll be able to say what it is parliament dislikes: seemingly leaving the EU without a deal and the backstop. It’s not yet clear, however, if there is even a majority to be found for extending the deadline, let alone any of the more politically fraught paths to avoid no deal.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.