Brexit Report January 2019

January saw Theresa May’s Brexit deal defeated by a humiliating 230 votes which (despite her delaying tactics to try to garner support) made it the biggest government defeat in British history. Despite this, the Tory rebels hypocritically voted for her the very next day to enable her to survive the No Confidence vote tabled by Jeremy Corbyn. This was followed by more delaying tactics, leading to a vote two weeks later on a series of amendments to try and determine how the Commons wished her to proceed. Labour’s amendment tabled by Jeremy Corbyn would have required more time for Parliament to consider an alternative deal and a public vote (referendum) on any deal. It did not get a majority, nor did amendments requiring the government to request an extension to the Article 50 deadline (which the government ministers have already admitted is now necessary under any circumstances). Sadly, some of these amendments fell because of Labour MPs breaking the Labour Party whip: 14 voted with the Tory government and 11 abstained.

In the end, just two amendments were passed. The ‘Spelman amendment’ stated that there should not be a No-Deal Brexit. The ‘Brady amendment’ asks Theresa May to request the EU27 reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and replace the ‘backstop’ for the Irish border with ‘alternative arrangements’ — but it does not spell out what alternatives are actually envisaged!

Several senior EU figures, as well as numerous heads of government, have said that on this basis there can be no reopening of the Withdrawal Agreement for renegotiation. So we remain gridlocked. Theresa May must return to the House of Commons on 14 February, presumably empty handed, and is trying desperately to blackmail MPs (“it’s my deal or no deal”) or even bribe them (“do you want a knighthood?”) to support her. She needs at least 115 MPs who voted against it a month earlier to change their minds. And by then we will be less than seven weeks away from the current Brexit deadline.

At the beginning of the month I wrote an article about how the Brexit options are narrowing, essentially to renegotiate or reconsider an alternative deal or calling a halt to Brexit. Despite a dramatic month in the House of Commons, the situation remains the same. Our European colleagues, observing the party political shenanigans in Westminster keenly, are still no clearer as to what the UK wants, still less how Theresa May can get out of the corner into which she has painted herself.

Labour has followed its 2018 Conference resolution: MPs have voted against the deal and have also tried to bring down the government in a No Confidence vote in the hope of triggering a general election. If no alternative deal emerges — and May’s consultation of opposition parties appears not to be working — Labour will have to move on to the only remaining option laid down in that conference resolution: a public vote to end the Brexit catastrophe, and simultaneously humiliate and sink the Tory government.