How MPs will try to take control of Brexit tonight

A complete guide to the amendments that will be put to the government's motion.


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Theresa May has said she has no plans to bring her deal back for a third vote this week. That means the spotlight is on the Commons, where MPs will vote on a series of amendments in an attempt to agree on a way forward.

Seven amendments were tabled in total, and three have been selected by the speaker John Bercow. The most important one is a cross-party proposal signed by more than 100 MPs, which would take control of parliamentary business on Wednesday to hold a series of indicative votes to try and find a majority for something. Votes will take place at 10pm.  

1. Labour frontbench for indicative votes

What does it do?

Tabled by Jeremy Corbyn and members of his top team, the amendment lists the alternatives to May’s Brexit deal, including a second referendum and a customs union. It calls on the government to allow enough time for parliament to find a majority for one of them this week, implicitly calling for a series of indicative votes to take place.  

Will it pass?

No, because MPs who want indicative votes are throwing their weight before the more prescriptive amendment by Tory MPs Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve (detailed below). Unlike the Labour frontbench proposal, that amendment explicitly takes control over parliamentary proceedings to sets time for the votes to occur on Wednesday.

Full text:

“notes the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement and Framework for the Future Relationship have been defeated for a second time; further notes the alternative proposals being proposed across this House including Her Majesty’s Opposition’s plan, Common Market 2.0, for a customs union, and for a public vote; and calls on the Government to provide sufficient parliamentary time this week for this House to find a majority for a different approach.”

2. 100 MPs call for indicative votes

What does it do?

This is the crucial amendment to watch tonight. It would wrestle control of parliamentary business from the government at 2pm on Wednesday, so as to hold a series of indicative votes on the possible ways forward. Since being proposed by a cross-party group of MPs including Letwin, Grieve and Hilary Benn, it has racked up more than 100 signatures.

Will it pass?

Probably. A very similar amendment to take control of the parliamentary agenda and hold indicative votes on 20 March, which was moved by Letwin and Benn, was defeated by just two votes on 14 March. Given that there is still no majority for the Brexit deal almost two weeks later, holding a set of indicative votes seems like the only option MPs have to try and settle on an alternative. 

Full text:

“and, given the need for the House to debate and vote on alternative ways forward, with a view to the Government putting forward a plan for the House to debate and vote on, orders that –

(a) Standing Order No. 14(1) (which provides that government business shall have precedence at every sitting save as provided in that order) shall not apply on Wednesday 27 March;

(b) precedence on that day shall be given to a motion relating to the Business of the House in connection with matters relating to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union other than any Business of the House motion relating to the consideration by the House of a motion under Section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and then to motions relating to that withdrawal and the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union other than any motion moved under Section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018;

(c) if more than one motion related to the Business of the House is tabled, the Speaker shall decide which motion shall have precedence;

(d) the Speaker shall interrupt proceedings on any business before the Business of the House motion having precedence at 2.00 pm on Wednesday 27 March and call a Member to move that motion;

(e) debate on that motion may continue until 3.00 pm on Wednesday 27 March at which time the Speaker shall put the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the motion including the questions on amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved;

(f) when those proceedings have been concluded, the Speaker shall call a Member to move one of the other motions having precedence;

(g) any proceedings interrupted or superseded by this order or an order arising from the Business of the House motion may be resumed or (as the case may be) entered upon and proceeded with after the moment of interruption on Wednesday 27 March.”


3. We don’t want no deal

What does it do?

This amendment restates parliament’s rejection of no deal. If the UK came within seven days of it, it would have the government bring forward a vote on whether MPs want no deal, or to extend Article 50 and find some alternative way forward. It’s been put forward by a small cross party group that includes Margaret Beckett, Joanna Cherry, Ed Davey, and Anna Soubry.

Will it pass?

This will be uncontroversial to most MPs and is likely to pass, because it all it does is allow them to vote again on no deal and extending Article 50. The real fight will happen if this vote does occur and MPs have to decide whether to allow a long extension, if they are faced with a choice between that and a cliff edge. 

Full text:

“and orders that, in the event that the UK comes within seven calendar days of leaving the European Union without a deal, the Government must make arrangements within two sitting days, or if this House has been adjourned for more than four days to arrange for the House to be recalled under Standing Order No. 13 (Earlier meeting of the House in certain circumstances) for this purpose, for a Minister of the Crown to move a motion on whether this House approves the UK leaving the EU without a deal and on whether the UK Government should be required to request an extension of the period in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit and to give time for Parliament to determine a different approach.”.

Eleni Courea writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2018.