EXPLAINED: The ‘simples’ guide to the vote on delaying Brexit Theresa May offered MPs
Theresa May today said there was a “simples” way to end the uncertainty and deliver Brexit - by backing the deal she clinches with Brussels. But if none of that works out the next steps are a little more complicated.
The Prime Minister announced a major U-turn today to match the concession by Jeremy Corbyn that Labour will back a second referendum on Brexit. She revealed a three-stage plan that could end in MPs voting on whether to extend the Article 50 Brexit process.
The announcement comes after months of refusing to countenance a Brexit delay - and was a last-minute move to avoid yet another humiliating Commons defeat. More on that later.
STAGE 1: New meaningful vote deadline
The Prime Minister reiterated the announcement she made in Sharm El Sheikh at the weekend that the next so-called ‘meaningful vote’ will take place by the 12 March. That’s a vote on her Brexit deal which MPs will be able to amend.
The PM has been desperately wrangling with Brussels in the hope of winning some last-minute concessions on the hated Northern Irish backstop plan, and has set herself a new deadline for bringing whatever she clinches back for approval from MPs. It just so happens that deadline is less than three weeks before the 29 March Brexit date.
Cutting it fine, much? The PM said herself: "I know members across the House are genuinely worried that time is running out, that if the Government doesn’t come back with a further meaningful vote, or it loses that vote, Parliament wont have time to make its voice heard on the next steps."
STAGE 2: What if there is no deal?
If the Prime Minister fails to win any concessions from Brussels and has nothing new to put to MPs, she will instead hold a vote by 13 March giving the option of leaving with no deal at all. The PM has long insisted that “no deal is better than a bad deal” and argued that ruling no-deal out would be giving away a key negotiating card. But now she is offering to put the choice in the hands of Parliament, at least temporarily, which is overwhelmingly against it.
She explained to MPs today: “The United Kingdom will only leave without a deal on 29 March if there is explicit consent in this House for that outcome.” That will be a major reassurance for some - and will stop an exodus from the government benches.
STAGE 3: What if MPs reject no-deal?
If MPs get as far as voting on no-deal they will all-but certainly reject it. If so, the PM said yet another vote will be held, this time by 14 March, on whether there should be a short extension of Article 50, delaying Brexit. She insisted any extension would only be brief (she said up to the end of June) and would most likely be a one-off - meaning if no solution is reached during the hold-up, a no-deal departure will be the only option left.
“An extension beyond the end of June would mean the UK taking part in the European Parliament elections,” the PM told the House. “What kind of message would that send to the more than 17 million people who voted to leave the EU nearly three years ago now? And the House should be clear that a short extension - not beyond the end of June - would almost certainly have to be a one-off.”
Theresa May made her big move today because she was heading for another embarrassing defeat tomorrow. MPs are set to vote on yet another progress update on Wednesday, with many preparing to table amendments to it containing directions for the Government on their preferred Brexit outcomes. One of those - an amendment written by Labour MP Yvette Cooper and Tory MP Oliver Letwin - contained a very similar plan to the one the PM laid out today.
If called by the Speaker there was a good chance it would have passed, with around 30 Tory MPs prepared to back it, according to reports last week, and even Cabinet ministers on the brink of resigning to lend their support. The pressure got too much for the PM and she was forced to cave to her MPs. She has bought herself breathing space for now.
But the problem for the PM is a usual one: Every concession she makes to the anti-hard-Brexit wing of her party is a kick in the teeth for the hardliners. Indeed, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chair of the European Research Group, has voiced fears the new timetable from the PM is a “plot to stop Brexit”. What the Brexiteers do next will be the one to watch.