How will MPs amend Theresa May’s Brexit plan B?

A complete guide to the amendments to the 29 January vote.

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MPs will vote on Theresa May’s dubiously-titled Plan B for Brexit this evening – with another defeat a foregone conclusion.

But this time, unlike the first iteration of the meaningful vote, the substantive, consequential action will come not on the government’s main motion, but on a host of backbench amendments tabled in the hope of forcing ministers to change direction.

Some aim to do so by giving MPs unprecedented control over parliamentary business; others solicit conclusive expressions of opinion on the potential options ahead. A comprehensive rolling guide follows.

1.  Jeremy Corbyn’s Alternative Brexit

What does it do?

Corbyn’s amendment would compel ministers to hold parliamentary debates – and votes – on options that would prevent a no-deal Brexit. Two, corresponding to the remaining paths Labour frontbenchers say are still open, are mentioned specifically: the party’s official Brexit model of high single market alignment and a permanent customs union; and a “public vote on a deal or a proposition that has commanded the support of the House of Commons”.

The second option has prompted the sort of celebrations one would expect from supporters of a second referendum within and without the Parliamentary Labour Party – that is to say, premature ones. What the amendment does not do is bind the leadership to whipping its MPs to support the referendum option if such a vote takes place under the terms it sets out, which it won’t.

Will it pass?

That said, Labour MPs will, naturally, be whipped to vote for this amendment by the leadership; that imprimatur alone will be enough to preclude the necessary support it needs from opposition parties, especially pro-EU Conservatives, to pass. The explicit mention of a second referendum is likely to repel some of the several dozen Labour MPs who are opposed to one, too.

Full text

“…requires ministers to secure sufficient time for the UK Parliament to consider and vote on options to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a ratified Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration, and that those options should include:

(i) Negotiating changes to the draft Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration so as to secure a permanent customs union with the EU, a strong relationship with the single market underpinned by shared institutions and obligations, and dynamic alignment on rights and standards, in order to command a majority in the House of Commons;

(ii) Legislating to hold a public vote on a deal or a proposition that has commanded the support of the majority of the House of Commons.”

2. Yvette Cooper’s Parliamentary Backstop

What does it do?

This cross-party initiative spearheaded by the Home Affairs Select Committee chair and Nick Boles, the Conservative MP championing a Norway-style Brexit, would tear up the parliamentary rulebook instituted after the obstructionist campaign of Irish Parliamentary Party leader Charles Stewart Parnell in the 1880s, in the hope of stopping no-deal.

To do so, the amendment would revoke Standing Order 14 – the parliamentary rule that gives precedence to government business – for the duration of 5 February. In its absence, a Brexit bill sponsored by at least 10 MPs from four different parties would usurp everything else on the Commons order paper.

Cooper and Boles intend to use said powers to table legislative proposals to extend Article 50 for nine months in the event that a Withdrawal Agreement is not approved by parliament by 26 February – in effect, a backstop that would allow MPs to defer a no-deal exit.

Will it pass?

Given the support it commands from pro-EU Conservatives, the plan stands a fighting chance if it secures the backing of the Labour leadership, which told frontbenchers yesterday it was supporting the plan. Doing so risks setting a precedent that could hobble its command of the parliamentary agenda should it come to power as a minority government, however, and some MPs in Leave constituencies in the North and Midlands are understood to have serious reservations. Amber Rudd has suggested that up to 40 government ministers could resign to vote for Cooper's proposals if collective responsibility is not suspended for the vote, but support for the amendment from MPs who explicitly advocate stopping Brexit could dissuade Tories.

Full text

“At end, add “and is conscious of the serious risks arising for the United Kingdom from exit without a withdrawal agreement and political declaration and orders accordingly that—

“(1) On 5 February 2019— (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;

“(b) a Business of the House Motion in connection with the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 3) Bill in the name of at least 10 Members, including at least four Members elected to the House as members of at least four different parties and at least two backers of that Bill shall stand as the first item of business;

“(c) that motion may be proceeded with until any hour though opposed, shall not be interrupted at the motion of interruption, and, if under discussion when business is postponed, under the provisions of any standing order, may be resumed, though opposed, after the interruption of business; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) will not apply;

“(d) at the conclusion of debate on that motion, the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on that motion (including for the purposes of Standing Order No. 36(2) (Questions to be put following closure of debate)) shall include the questions on any amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; and

“(e) the second reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 3) Bill shall stand as the first order of the day;

“and (2) In respect of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 3) Bill, notices of Amendments, new Clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.”

3. Dominic Grieve’s Parliamentary Timetable

What does it do?

The Tory Remainer had originally proposed a radical amendment that would have allowed a qualified minority of 300 MPs, provided representatives from four separate parties were among their number, to dictate the business of the Commons.

Unfavourable press coverage and with it backlash from parliamentary colleagues saw him drop that plan and in its place table an amendment – with the support of Tory Remainers, Labour backbenchers, the SNP, Liberal Democrats and Greens – that would force ministers to give MPs six full days of debate on alternative Brexit plans before March 26.

It would use the same mechanism proposed by Cooper’s amendment to take control of the parliamentary timetable on 5 and 12 February and 5, 12, 19 and 26 March, allowing for a series of debates and indicative votes.

Will it pass?

Only if Labour whips for it.

Full text

“…and orders that on 12 and 26 February and 5, 12, 19 and 26 March 2019—

“(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;

“(b) a Motion in the name of the Chairman of Ways and Means “That this House has considered the United Kingdom’s departure from, and future relationship with, the European Union” shall stand as the first item of business;

“(c) Standing Order No. 24B (Amendments to motions to consider specified matters) shall not apply to such motions;

“(d) Proceedings on the motion may continue for up to six and a half hours after its commencement, though opposed, and shall not be interrupted at the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) will not apply;

“and (e) at the conclusion of those proceedings, the Speaker shall put the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the motion, which shall include the questions on any amendments selected by the Speaker, which may then be moved.”

5. Graham Brady's alternative backstop

What does it do?

The 1922 Committee chairman - who surprised Westminster when he voted against the Withdrawal Agreement earlier this month - has tabled an amendment that would require the backstop to be replaced by alternative arrangements.

As with Murrison's amendment, it could not bind Brussels - but is instead intended to give May a renewed negotiating mandate ahead of a return to Brussels. 

Will it pass?

Likely to win the approval of the DUP and European Research Group, and could yet be accepted by the government given the support it enjoys from May loyalists like Damian Green.

Full text

“requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border; supports leaving the European Union with a deal and would therefore support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change”.

6. Against No Deal

What does it do?

Tabled by Labour frontbencher Jack Dromey and Tory Caroline Spelman, the amendment straightforwardly asks MPs to reject no deal. It does not, however, propose a procedure for doing so.

Will it pass?

Rejecting no-deal in the abstract is an uncontentious ask of MPs. Almost certainly.

Full text

“and rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a withdrawal Agreement and a future framework for the future relationship”

7. Stella Creasy’s Citizens’ Assembly

What does it do?

The Walthamstow MP’s cross-party amendment – also signed by her Labour colleagues Lisa Nandy, Liz Kendall, Alison McGovern; the Lib Dems’ Norman Lamb and Christine Jardine; the Greens’ Caroline Lucas, and others – would require ministers to seek an Article 50 extension and establish a Citizens’ Assembly of 250 members to consider a range of Brexit options. Its advocates compare it to the body that considered reform of Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion.

Creasy’s Assembly would be required to report to Parliament within 10 weeks. The government would be obliged to respond within a fortnight, and, if accepting its recommendations, would have to lay its plans for their implementation before MPs. There is no mention of it being bound to do so, however.

Will it pass?

No. Despite the high profile of its more thoughtful advocates, and favourable coverage in the Guardian, this is the sort of idea that is unlikely to ever get much of a hearing outside of its comment pages. The identity of its lead backers, among other things, as good as guarantees it will be ignored by Team Corbyn, to say nothing of the seven Conservative MPs anyone seeking a Commons majority for anything requires. Its champions have nonetheless been buoyed by apparently positive responses from Tory ministers such as David Lidington, May's de facto deputy.

Full text

“…requires the Government to request the European Council to extend the period under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union to ensure that a Citizens’ Assembly can be part of a democratic decision-making process; requires the Corporate Officer of the House of Commons to commission a Citizens’ Assembly of 250 members comprising a representative sample of the population to consider the process in connection with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, to make recommendations and to report to the House of Commons; requests the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union to provide such assistance to the Citizens’ Assembly that it may request; orders that the Liaison Committee of the House of Commons shall appoint an expert advisory group to assist the work of the Assembly in preparing information and advice; orders that the Citizens’ Assembly shall publish its recommendations within 10 weeks of commencement; and requests the Government to respond in writing to all recommendations made by the Assembly no later than two weeks after they are presented and, if accepting the recommendations, to set out by a report to Parliament how it intends to ensure that those recommendations can be implemented in full, including the timescales for implementation.”

8. Hilary Benn’s Indicative Votes

What does it do?

The Brexit Select Committee chairman’s amendment demands ministers hold a series of non-binding votes on four options: leaving the EU under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration negotiated by Theresa May; leaving without a deal; directing the government to renegotiate the Irish backstop, a Canada-style free trade agreement or joining the EFTA pillar of the EEA; and a second referendum.

Will it pass?

Indicative votes have significant support from MPs across the Commons, including a number of government ministers. Its best hope would come with a free vote, which may yet be forthcoming.

Full text

“…and calls on the Government to hold a series of indicative votes on the options set out in the Exiting the European Union Committee’s Eleventh Report of Session 2017-19 in the order in which they are listed in paragraphs 15 to 19 in that Report.”

9. Frank Field's Indicative Votes

What does it do?

The former Labour member for Birkenhead’s proposal is essentially the same as that proposed by Benn, albeit with a broader range of options. Co-sponsored by former Tory minister Ed Vaisey, the amendment proposes indicative votes on renegotiating the backstop; no-deal; extending Article 50; negotiating a customs union; a Canada-style free trade agreement; an EEA-style arrangment similar to Norway’s; and a second referendum. Its list is not exhaustive, however. 

Will it pass?

Though his proposal is less well-supported than Benn’s, indicative votes have significant support from MPs across the Commons, including a number of government ministers. Its best hope would come with a free vote, which may yet be forthcoming.

Full text

“...believes the public has a right to know how Members would vote on the different Brexit choices facing the country; believes also that Members should have an opportunity as soon as possible to register their vote on a range of options including a reformed Northern Ireland ‘backstop’, leaving the European Union with no deal, extending Article 50, entering into a future Canada-style relationship with the European Union, entering into a future Norway-style relationship with the European Union, holding a new referendum, and being in a Customs Union with the European Union; notes that this course of action could act as a powerful guide to the Government during its ongoing discussions with the European Union; and calls for sufficient time to be granted for this course of action to take place and for the House to determine these matters by free votes.”

10. Rachel Reeves’ Article 50 extension

What does it do?

Backed by several backbench Labour MPs as well as Norman Lamb and the SNP’s Drew Hendry, the Business Select Committee chairwoman calls upon ministers to seek an Article 50 extension of unspecified length for unspecified purposes.

Will it pass?

An extension is increasingly spoken of on both sides of the Commons as an inevitability, but Reeves’s amendment and its lack of a defined end to its means are likely to have come too soon for the Labour leadership, whose support will be required if it is to have any chance of passing. Nor, unlike the Cooper amendment, does it propose legislation. But it is nonetheless likely to hoover up plenty of opposition votes

Full text

“…and, in the event that the House of Commons has not passed a resolution approving the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 by 26 February 2019, requires the Prime Minister to seek an extension to the period of two years specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union.

11. John Baron’s backstop duo

What does it do?

Baron, a pro-Brexit Conservative backbencher, was the only MP to push their amendment to the first meaningful vote motion to a divison. His proposal to give the UK the right to unilaterally terminate the backstop was overwhelmingly defeated by 600 votes to 24. That experience, however, has not stopped him from tabling a further two along similar lines. 

The first would withhold parliamentary approval from a backstop whose provisions lasted longer than six months; while the second demands a unilateral exit clause. 

Will it pass? 

Unlikely, given that opposition to the backstop is a mainly Tory preoccupation. But its proponents would argue that securing a majority is not the point. Rather the objective is to demonstrate the strength and breadth of Conservative opposition to the backstop.

That said, however, Baron's amendments lack the wide support enjoyed by his colleague Andrew Murrison, so it is concievable that they will do less well. The constituency of Tories who want to ditch the backstop entirely, rather than circumscribe the way it works, is also relatively small.

Full text

“...and will not approve a Withdrawal Agreement which includes a Northern Ireland backstop lasting any longer than six months.”

“...and will not approve a Withdrawal Agreement unless it includes the right of the UK to terminate a Northern Ireland backstop without having to secure the agreement of the EU.”

12. Vince Cable's second referendum 

What does it do?

The Liberal Democrat leader's amendment instructs ministers to rule out a no-deal scenario and hold a second referendum, one of whose options would be remaining in the EU.

Will it pass?

No. 

Full text

“instructs the Government to take all necessary steps to rule out a no-deal scenario and prepare for a People’s Vote in which the public will have the option to remain in the European Union on the ballot paper.”

13. Tom Brake's cross-party committee

What does it do?

The Liberal Democrat MP has proposed that a committee of 17 MPs from all parties -- with seats allocated in proportionate with vote shares at the 2017 election, denying the government a majority -- be given powers to determine future Commons business on Brexit and sit around the clock. He also hints that it would have the power to negotiate with Brussels. 

Will it pass?

Unlikely to win support from either the Labour leadership or a significant number of Tory rebels.

Full text

“…and, in order to resolve the present impasse and bring to a conclusion negotiations with the EU over the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, orders that--

(1) An EU Withdrawal Negotiations Business of the House Committee be established;

(2) The Committee be comprised of no more than seventeen Members appointed on a quota basis based on the proportional vote share of the parties at the last genereal election and ensuring representation from all parts of the United Kingdom;

(3) The Committee members be nominated by the Selection Committee in accordance with paragraph (2) no later than Wednesday 6 February;

(4) The motion to appoint the members shall stand as an order of business on Monday 11 February and the proviso to Standing Order No. 15(1)(c) shall apply to proceedings on that motion as if it had been opposed at or after the moment of interruption on a preceding day;

The Committee shall have power -- 

(i) To determine the business of the House related to the UK's withdrawal from the EU

(ii) To send for persons, papers and records, to assist in carrying out in functions under sub-paragraph (i);

(iii) To sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House;

(iv) To report from time to time;

(v) To appoint specialist advisers; and

(vi) To adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdoms and to visit Brussels;

(6) On any day on which the Committee determines that business determined in accordance with paragraph 5(i) shall have precedence, Standing Order No. 14 (Arrangement of public business) shall not apply.”

14. Ian Blackford's Article 50 extension

What does it do?

Tabled by the Westminster leaders of the SNP and Plaid Cymru, this amendment urges the government to take note of the rejection of the withdrawal agreement by the devolved legislatures in Wales and Scotland and extend Article 50. 

Will it pass?

No. 

Full text

“notes that the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and House of Commons all voted overwhelmingly to reject the Prime Minister's deal; calls for the Government to seek an extension of the period specified under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union; agrees a No Deal outcome should be ruled out; and recognises that if the UK is an equal partnership of nations, the 62 per cent vote to remain at the EU referendum on 23 June 2016 in Scotland should be respected and that the people of Scotland should not be taken out of the EU against their will.”

15. Angus MacNeil's Article 50 revocation

What does it do?

The SNP chair of the International Trade Select Committee proposes the government brings forward the legislation required to withdraw the UK's Article 50 notification before March 29. 

Will it pass?

MacNeil's amendment bears only his signature and that of an SNP colleague, Pete Wishart, meaning its chances of selection are slim. As for its chances of passing, few Remainers would be willing to take the nuclear option of calling for the revocation of Article 50 when other amendments propose a less controversial extension. 

Full text

“calls on the Government to bring forward urgently the legislation necessary to require the Prime Minister to revoke before 29 March 2019 the UK's notice of intention to withdraw from the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.”

 

The following amendments were also tabled but have since been pulled ahead of tonight's vote.

 

1. Andrew Murrison’s backstop time limit

What did it do?

The Conservative chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs select committee has proposed an amendment that would make parliament’s approval of the Withdrawal Agreement conditional on the insertion of a time limit on the Irish backstop – which, if secured, would win over the DUP and with them a substantial number of Tory Brexiteers.

Its approval, of course, would not bind Brussels, who have hitherto insisted that the divorce deal is not up for renegotiation. Instead, it would give the prime minister a quantifiable indicator of the mood of the Commons that might help her make a case for the EU’s allowing so when she returns to Brussels.

Why was it pulled?

Murrison agreed not to table his amendment after Theresa May told Tory MPs she would support Graham Brady's, in the hope of increasing its chances of selection by the Speaker and success in the Commons.

Full text

“...and insists that the EU Withdrawal Agreement be amended so that the backstop shall expire on 31 December 2021.”

2. John Baron's backstop eliminator 

What did it do?

The first of three amendments originally tabled by the Tory Brexiteer, it aimed to deny parliamentary approval to a Withdrawal Agreement that contained any kind of backstop.

Why was it pulled?

Like Andrew Murrison, Baron agreed not to table this amendment after Theresa May told Tory MPs she would support Graham Brady's, in the hope of increasing its chances of selection by the Speaker and success in the Commons.

Full text

“...and will not approve a Withdrawal Agreement which includes a Northern Ireland backstop.”

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.