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How British MPs plan to seize control of Brexit from Theresa May



LONDON — After her Brexit deal was defeated by a crushing 230-vote margin last week, Prime Minister Theresa May outlined her Brexit “plan B” on Monday, which turns out to be rather similar to her “plan A.”

She plans to return to Brussels where she will once again ask for concessions from the EU before putting her plans back before the House of Commons next week.

The UK parliament has different ideas however. MPs from across the House have brought forward a series of amendments to May’s plan which, if passed, could fundamentally reshape the course of Brexit, wrestling much of the prime minister’s control away from her and blocking a no-deal Brexit.

So what are the amendments, what do they mean, and how likely are they to pass? Here are the most important ones explained.

Stop no-deal by delaying Brexit

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs select committee
Reuters / Suzanne Plunkett

The UK is currently set to leave the EU on March 29 2019 whether it has secured an exit deal or not and May has also insisted that Britain will leave by that date with or without a deal. However, an amendment brought by Labour MP Yvette Cooper is designed to prevent this.

Cooper’s amendment would allow parliamentary time for a bill – also tabled by Yvette Cooper — which would allow MPs to vote on delaying Brexit if parliament has not approved a deal by the last week of February.

The bill would not automatically require the government to seek an Article 50 extension. Instead, it would give the government until February 26 to secure a deal which is accepted by parliament.

Here’s the key section of the bill:

If, before 26 February 2019, 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 5 (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (“the 2018 Act”), the Prime Minister must, not later than 26 February, move a motion in the House of Commons in the form set out in subsection (2).

That means that MPs could vote on an extension of the two-year Article 50 process should the bill pass. But the bill would itself be difficult to bring into law, because legislation has to pass between the House of Lords and House of Commons several times before it enters statute books and there is not much time for this to happen.

However, the proposed bill has the backing of high-profile Conservative and Labour Remainers. Nick Boles, Nicky Morgan, Stephen Kinnock, and Hillary Benn have all put their name to the Cooper amendment which will be voted on on Tuesday January 29.

Whether the amendment passes is likely to depend on whether the Labour frontbench supports it. Cooper appears confident that they will, and shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman said this week it is “absolutely something we’ll seriously consider.”

A parliamentary coup

UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor

Even more radical than Cooper’s amendment is one tabled by Tory Remainer Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general.

The amendment would allow MPs to seize control of the Commons timetable if just 300 MPs — not even a majority of the 650 MPs — voted for it.

Usually the government controls the agenda in the Commons, which prevents backbenchers from tabling bills then trying to force them through parliament.

But Grieve’s plan would allow formal business proposed by at least 300 MPs — from at least 5 parties and including 10 Tories — to be debated as the first item of Commons business the next day.

Grieve said it would allow MPs to vote on alternatives to May’s defeated deal.

Even if selected by the House of Commons speaker for a vote, Grieve’s amendment would struggle to be accepted because Labour is unlikely to back such a radical plan. The leadership reportedly fears that it could hamstring a future Labour government.

Give MPs a vote on a new deal or a referendum


Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench has brought forward a less radical amendment which states parliament should have a vote on all possible Brexit options, including a second referendum.

At the top of the list of options would be Labour’s own Brexit policy — permanent membership of the customs union. The Labour leadership believes the amendment is in line with the party’s conference motion, which called for Labour to keep all options, including a second referendum, on the table.

However, the plan is not backed by Tory Remainers, who are unlikely to hand an easy victory to Corbyn in any circumstances. Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who backs a ‘People’s Vote’, told Business Insider: “The Labour amendment is not a People’s Vote amendment. The front bench is continuing to use creative language to duck the decision about backing a people’s vote.”

Let a ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ decide

Supporters sail in protest, staged by fishermen and fishing communities from the campaign group ‘Fishing for Leave’ in ports across the country, against Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit transition deal, in Hastings, Britain April 8, 2018.
Reuters / Peter Nicholls

An amendment brought forward by Labour MPs Stella Creasy, Lisa Nandy and others would force the government to delay Brexit pending the creation of a new “citizens assembly,” who would decide what to do next. The assembly would consist 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.”

This is an interesting idea. However, if 650 experienced legislators in the House of Commons can’t agree a way forward, it’s difficult to see why 250 randomly selected members of the public would fare better.

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