How will MPs amend this week’s Brexit motion?

The Valentine’s Day vote on the government's next step is shaping up to be an anticlimax.

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MPs will debate the government’s Brexit strategy again today – but a set of votes that last week were breathlessly written up as a potential Valentine’s Day massacre for Theresa May are likely to be anticlimactic.

In the absence of a revised Brexit deal, the prime minister will ask the Commons to confirm their support for the plan that won a majority last month: rejecting the principle of no-deal and renegotiating the Northern Irish backstop. As with the last set of votes, however, MPs will be able to lay their own amendments to her motion in the hope of dictating the government’s next steps.

Tory Eurosceptics, uneasy about being seen to rule out a no-deal even by implication, could yet vote against or abstain on the main motion. But with another debate and vote promised for 27 February, the other Brexit tribes in the Commons are holding their fire and today's order of business looks decidedly thin.

Jeremy Corbyn’s deadline

What does it do?

The Labour leadership’s amendment would require the government to either hold another meaningful vote on the deal itself by 27 February, or failing that hold another debate and vote on the government’s next steps.

Will it pass?

The government has already committed to Labour’s demand for a vote on an amendable motion by the end of the month. That as good as eliminates the already negligible chance of the amendment winning the votes from Tory MPs it would need.

Full text

“requires by 27 February 2019 a Minister of the Crown either (a) to move another motion under Section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 or (b) to make a written statement declaring that there is no longer an agreement in principle in the negotiations with the European Union and to move no later than that date an amendable motion on how the Government proposes to proceed.”

Ken Clarke’s preferential votes

What does it do?

The Father of the House has calls for a preferential ballot of MPs on their preferred options. Proposals would need the support of at least 50 members to qualify for a place on the ballot paper.

Will it pass?

Likely to be selected by the Speaker, but unlikely to win the necessary support from the leadership. Also lacks support from Conservative MPs beyond Clarke himself.

Full text

“considers that the most effective means of determining the position of the House on any negotiated withdrawal agreement and future framework presented by the Government for approval by the House is through a ballot on all options commanding support in the House, conducted under a method in which Members may rank their preferences; and accordingly orders that, notwithstanding the practice of the House in deciding Questions on Motions, in relation to any motion moved by a Minister of the Crown pursuant to section 13(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (“the European Union withdrawal motion”), no amendment to the Question proposed from the Chair may be selected or moved, and the Question shall be decided by a ballot under the following arrangements:

(1) 90 minutes before the scheduled end of proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion, the Speaker shall interrupt the debate and initiate the ballot on the Question; and proceedings shall then be suspended until the outcome of the ballot is announced from the Chair.

(2)

(a) The ballot shall take place in the lobbies.

(b) Each Member intending to vote shall be provided with a ballot paper listing each text entered into the ballot, together with the name of the Member proposing the text.

(c) Members shall vote for their preferred text using the method set out in Standing Order No. 122B (11)(d) (Election of select committee chairs).

(d) 30 minutes after the initiation of the ballot, the Speaker shall declare it closed; and counting shall then take place under arrangements made by the Clerk of the House.

(e) The Speaker shall have power to give final directions on any matter of doubt arising from the conduct of the ballot or from an individual ballot paper.

(3) The text of any Question proposed from the Chair is eligible for entry in the ballot.

(4) Any text proposing an amendment to the Question shall be eligible for entry in the ballot provided that:

(a) it has been signed by at least 50 Members; and

(b) notice of the proposed amendment has been given, and that notice has been published on the Order Paper.

(5) As soon as practicable after the ballot has closed, the Speaker shall:

(a) resume proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion;

(b) announce from the Chair the text which has received more than half the votes;

(c) put forthwith either

(i) the Question originally proposed from the Chair, if the text of that Question has received more than half the votes; or

(ii) the Question on the European Union withdrawal motion, as amended by the text which has received more than half the votes.

(6) As soon as possible after the conclusion of the ballot the Speaker shall cause to be published a table indicating the ranking given to each text by each Member casting a ballot.”

Winner Takes All Indicative Votes

What does it do? 

Led by Conservative Remainer Sarah Wollaston, advocates of a second referendum propose from across the Commons propose a series of binding indicative votes on the current withdrawal agreement, no-deal, renegotiating the backstop, a Canada-style free trade agreement, joining a customs union and the EFTA pillar of the European Economic Area, and a second referendum. May would be bound to pursue the winning option. 

Will it pass?

Without the backing of the Labour leadership - which it won't get - this amendment is doomed.

Full text

“orders that on Tuesday 26th February–

(1) 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;

(2) The motions set out below shall be in the name of the Chairman of Ways & Means and shall be debated and the questions put without amendment at the conclusion of those proceedings:

(a) That this House approves of Option 1 (a further vote on the draft Withdrawal Agreement and Framework for the Future Relationship) as set out in paragraphs 15 to 19 of the Eleventh Report of the Exiting the European Union Select Committee Session 2017-19.

(b) That this House approves of Option 2 (leaving the EU with no deal on 29 March 2019) as set out in paragraphs 15 to 19 of the Eleventh Report of the Exiting the European Union Select Committee Session 2017-19.

(c) That this House approves of Option 3(a) (seeking changes to the text of the Withdrawal Agreement on the backstop arrangements) as set out in paragraphs 15 to 19 of the Eleventh Report of the Exiting the European Union Select Committee Session 2017-19.

(d) That this House approves of Option 3(b) (seeking a Canada-style deal) as set out in paragraphs 15 to 19 of the Eleventh Report of the Exiting the European Union Select Committee Session 2017-19.

(e) That this House approves of Option 3(c) (seeking to join the EEA through the EFTA pillar and remaining in a customs union with the EU) as set out in paragraphs 15 to 19 of the Eleventh Report of the Exiting the European Union Select Committee Session 2017-19.

(f) That this House approves of Option 4 (that a public vote should be held to allow the British people the opportunity to decide either which kind of Brexit deal they want or whether they wish to remain in the EU) as set out in paragraphs 15 to 19 of the Eleventh Report of the Exiting the European Union Select Committee Session 2017-19.

(3) Debate 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) shall not apply;

(4) At the conclusion of those proceedings, the Speaker shall put the question necessary to dispose of the proceedings on each motion;

(5) In the event that only one of the six motions in paragraph (2) is approved, the Prime Minister is instructed to pursue that option in good faith and report back to the House in an oral statement on Tuesday 5 March 2019 and to make a request to the European Council for an extension to the Article 50(3) timetable necessary to pursue that resolution;

(6) In the event that two or more of the six motions in paragraph (2) are approved, the Prime Minister is instructed to immediately prepare for a public referendum giving the British people the opportunity to determine which of those options should be pursued and shall introduce legislation to facilitate that referendum at the earliest opportunity and shall make a request to the European Council for an extension to the Article 50(3) timetable necessary to pursue that referendum and those resolutions;

(7) In the event that none of the six motions in paragraph (2) is approved, the Prime Minister is instructed to immediately prepare for a public referendum on whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union on the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement and Framework for the Future Relationship agreed at the European Council on 25 November 2018, or whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union, and the Prime Minister shall introduce legislation to facilitate that referendum at the earliest opportunity and shall make a request to the European Council for an extension to the Article 50(3) timetable necessary to pursue that referendum.”

Revoke Article 50

What does it do?

Tabled by SNP MP Angus Macneil – and signed by a handful of his colleagues, as well as Labour’s Janet Daby – it calls on the government to legislate to revoke the UK’s Article 50 notification.

Will it pass?

No. The appetite for extending Article 50 among backbenchers is extremely limited, and there is virtually none for full revocation without a referendum. Its lack of substantial cross-party support means it is unlikely to be selected anyway.

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 “I Can’t Believe It’s Not A People’s Vote!” Amendment

What does it do?

Second referendum advocates Anna Soubry, Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Sarah Wollaston, Heidi Allen and Luciana Berger have called for ministers to publish in full the latest government assessment on the economic impact of a no-deal Brexit. Though it does not mention a referendum explicitly, the amendment is transparently an attempt to bolster the case for one.

Will it pass?

Though in principle the demand is one a majority of MPs and the Labour leadership could get behind, the identity of those making it – and their aim in doing so – means it is probably unlikely to win the necessary support. Its broad base of cross-party backers increases the likelihood of its selection by the Speaker, however. At that point, Team Corbyn might find it difficult to justify rejecting something that is entirely consistent with their stance.

Full text

“instructs the Government within seven days to publish in full the most recent official briefing document relating to business and trade on the implications of a no-deal Brexit presented to Cabinet.”

The “I Can’t Believe It Is A People’s Vote!” Amendment

What does it do?

Career heretic Roger Godsiff – the Labour backbencher who campaigned for Brexit, voted against triggering Article 50 and now wants a second referendum – has broken ranks with the mainstream campaign for a fresh plebiscite and tabled an amendment demanding the government legislate for one.

He proposes a three question referendum between May’s deal, no-deal and remaining in the EU using the alternative vote system, and calls on the government to request an Article 50 extension in order to make it happen.

Will it pass?

Godsiff is, as ever, on his own with this one. Not a single MP has put their name to his amendment, which means it is unlikely to be selected for a vote by the Speaker anyway. Labour MPs supportive of a second referendum intend to table their amendment at the next set of votes, and favour a two-way choice between Remain and May’s deal.

Full text

“...and furthermore believes that an extension to Article 50 should be requested in order to enable legislation, associated with any agreement, to be enacted and to enable any final agreement between the UK Government and the EU, once it has been approved by Parliament and mindful of the fact that the original decision was made by the electorate, not Parliament, to be put to a referendum of the electorate with three questions on the ballot paper, namely to accept the agreement; to reject the agreement and to leave the EU without an agreement; or to reject the agreement and remain in the EU, and that the voting take place using the alternative vote method whereby each of the three options are voted upon in preference and if a 50 per cent majority is not achieved on the first ballot then the second preferences of the eliminated option are redistributed to achieve a majority outcome on the second ballot.”

The "I Can't Believe It's Another People's Vote!" Amendment

What does it do?

In a move whose primary but unintended political import is to demonstrate divisions among advocates of a second referendum - particularly those on the Labour benches - Swansea West MP Geraint Davies' amendment calls on the government to commit to requesting an Article 50 extension, preparing for a soft Brexit, and organising a new referendum on whether to accept May's deal or to remain. 

Will it pass?

The short answer, given it demands something for which there is no parliamentary majority, is no. The People's Vote campaign believe they only stand a chance of winning a parliamentary majority once every other option has been in defeated in the Commons and as such stress they have nothing to do with this one. The hard core of Labour MPs whose priority is to secure a second referendum might find it difficult not to vote in favour of Davies's amendment should it be selected, but its inevitable failure will serve to prove the point of not striking too early.

Full text

“notes that the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement and framework for the future relationship between the UK and the EU were rejected by a majority of 230 votes on 15 January; notes that on 29 January this House rejected the UK’s leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement and a future relationship framework; notes that in the present circumstances no withdrawal agreement can be passed by this House without the support or at least abstention of Members on the Opposition benches; and, in the light of these facts, in order to avoid a catastrophic no-deal exit on 29 March and secure ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, calls on the Government to make firm commitments to this House which must include: seeking more time under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union to ensure passage of the necessary legislation, planning for the UK to adopt dynamic alignment after exit with EU rights and protections, continuing participation after exit in EU agencies and funding programmes, leaving options open for this or a future Government to seek a permanent comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU and a retained close alignment with the single market, and voter ratification by a public vote to either accept the Withdrawal Agreement or remain a member state of the European Union.”

The "I Can't Believe There Are Two More People's Votes!" Amendments

What do they do?

Both Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats have tabled their own amendments and both demand a second referendum. The Welsh nationalists' plan would require the government to take note of the withdrawal agreement's rejection by the devolved legislatures and hold a pre-ratification referendum on the deal, or, failing that, commit to a referendum on the future trade relationship at the end of the transition period (if rejected, they envision the UK rejoining the EU on the terms it currently enjoys).

Vince Cable's proposals are more straightforward: an Article 50 extension and public vote on May's deal versus remaining in the EU. The insaitable Roger Godsiff has tabled a further amendment to Cable's amendment that proposes a three-question, two-round referendum conducted via the alternative vote system. 

Will they pass?

No.

Full text

“notes that the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Parliament and the House of Commons all voted overwhelmingly to reject the Prime Minister’s deal; recognises that the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament voted convincingly in favour of a People’s Vote; further notes that this House rejected the UK’s leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement and a future relationship framework; and therefore calls on the Government to honour the respective will of each Parliament by seeking more time under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union to ensure passage of the necessary legislation to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, which should include provision for a binding referendum on either accepting the Withdrawal Agreement or retaining membership of the European Union, or, if the Government is unable to secure such additional time under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union for a pre-ratification referendum, seeking to include in a revised political declaration a commitment for the UK to hold a referendum at the end of the transition period on either accepting the terms of the UK’s future relationship with the European Union or re-joining the European Union under the terms of the UK’s existing membership, and accordingly including provision for a referendum at the end of the transition period in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill needed for ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement.”

“requires, in the event that the House of Commons has not passed a resolution approving the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement and the Framework for a Future Relationship for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 by 27 February 2019, the Prime Minister to immediately seek an extension of the period of two years specified in Article 50 (3) of the Treaty on European Union for the purposes of a referendum on whether to exit the European Union under the terms of the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement or stay in membership of the European Union.”

Ian Blackford's Article 50 Extension

What does it do?

The SNP, with the backing of the Liberal Democrats, have tabled an amendment that would require the prime minister to begin negotiations on an Article 50 extension of at least three months.

Will it pass?

No. The real test of the latent majority believed to be willing to extend Article 50 to prevent a no-deal scenario will come in the next set of parliamentary votes, when the Cooper-Boles amendment will return.

Full text

“requires that a Minister of the Crown immediately begin negotiations with the European Council to extend the period specified under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union by no fewer than three months from 29 March 2019, and bring forward an appropriate amendment to section 20 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to facilitate this change.”

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.