Brexit. The hour approaches. Part 1.
After all the talk, it’s time.
By Tatton Spiller of SIMPLE POLITICS …
Almost exactly two and a half years from the Brexit vote, we have reached the point where MPs get to vote on the deal. There has been a lot of bluster and hot air from all sides. A lot of nonsense. A lot of late nights. But now, we’re here. The issue is that lots of people don’t want to be here. They want to be somewhere else entirely.
The issue I have here is that I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m not embarrassed to say that. Nobody knows what is going to happen. Anyone who pretends to is either lying or a fool. Or both. So, I’m going to lay out some options for you and give you my best guess. Feel free to reply to this with your best guess or just to tell me how wrong I am. I’d be interested in your thoughts.
Before we get onto what happens, it’s worth looking at what the vote is about.
The deal has two bits to it, one that’s legally binding and one that’s an expression of good will.
This sorts out three things. The divorce bill (£39bn). That EU citizens can stay here and UK citizens can stay in the EU (mostly in Spain). The Irish border issue.
I’m sure you know by now that it’s that third point – the Irish border that is so difficult. Everyone wants an open border and some think we can sort that out in time for January 2022 when the transition period will be over. In case it’s not sorted, though, there is this backstop thing. Just in case. And this backstop is a real issue. We may not be able to exit whenever we want. Some are saying we could be held in the agreement for decades. The DUP are particularly unhappy.
This is a lot of nice words about what great friends we’ll be in the future. We can trade and travel and arrest and hold hands at the weekends. But none of it is binding, nor has anything actually been agreed with the EU. This is a statement of intention before talks start properly next year. I personally think it’s about as much use as my statement of intention when I join a gym in January.
Six amendments will be selected on Tuesday. They will range from the Labour one refusing the deal and ruling out a no deal Brexit to Brexiteers laying down a change that means that we can walk out of the deal if the EU are trying to keep us in the backstop, to a call for a second referendum, to specific types of deals like Norway plus. I don’ think that any one of these amendments will have enough MPs to go through. That means the motion will, I think, go through to the final vote unamended.
Right now there are three possibilities for the vote:
The vote is delayed – there is a lot of talk right now of the PM pulling the vote. She knows she can’t win, so she will find a way to postpone until she can do a bit more work to make it a little more palatable. In an interview on Thursday morning, May refused to be drawn on this issue. We’ll see.
The vote is won – there are a lot of people who think this almost certainly won’t happen, but… it’s still a possibility. Theresa May is meeting with a lot of Conservative MPs. There is speculation that she intentionally lost a vote on contempt of Parliament to show some MPs that Brexit may not happen at all.
To be fair, when you look at numbers it is tricky. The DUP have been very clear they won’t vote with the government if the backstop is still there. It’s hard to see how May can get rid of the backstop before Tuesday. So, that leaves the government with the 315 Conservative MPs. But lots of them have said they would vote against. The PM needs to do some pretty solid deal-making here. There are also a handful of Labour and Lib Dem MPs who could swell the numbers in support, but nothing like enough if the 100 or so Conservative rebels make good on their words.
There is still time, though, and she’s a pretty determined Prime Minister. Don’t be too surprised if she manages to squeeze herself over the line.
The vote is lost – this is, right now, by far the most likely outcome. All those Brexiteer Conservative MPs voting with the DUP and the opposition parties mean there just aren’t the votes to get this through. Sky News estimated this week that she’d lose by 170 votes. I think that’s much too big a number. MPs don’t like voting against their leader. It’s not a great look for their party. Many are waiting to the last minute to see what concessions they can get. We’ll see.
PART TWO HERE