EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about the Yvette Cooper amendment to prevent a no-deal Brexit

Posted On: 
21st January 2019

A cross-party plan to prevent a no-deal Brexit has been gaining traction at Westminister - but what exactly is all the fuss about? PoliticsHome explains. 

Labour MP and Home Affairs Committee chair Yvette Cooper
Credit: 
PA Images

SO WHAT IS THE PLAN?

The plan is essentially to stop a no-deal Brexit from happening. The UK is set to leave the EU on 29 March next year with or without a deal. The legal rules of the Brexit process - known as Article 50 - state that a country has two years to prepare from the moment it triggers the process to leave the EU.

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That two year time limit is little more than 60 days from now - and the Government feels no closer to getting a deal through parliament than when it started. The only way it can stop the UK leaving on World Trade Organisation terms in March is by either asking for a formal delay to the two-year process (which members states would have to agree to) or unilaterally cancelling it completely.

Theresa May has refused to countenance a delay or extension - insisting that the UK will leave on the planned date. So an amendment by Cooper and others lays out a plan to take control of the situation and make that delay happen.

 

HOW EXACTLY DOES IT WORK?

Here is the technical bit: The amendment would be tacked onto the motion the Prime Minster will table today setting out her Brexit plan B. That motion - and any amendments added to it that are selected by the Speaker - will be voted on on Tuesday 29 January.

The Cooper amendment would allow parliamentary time for a bill which would give MPs a vote on delaying Article 50. That bill would give the Government until 26 February to get parliamentary approval for a Withdrawal Agreement (after the Brexit deal was overwhelmingly defeated last week) and allow parliament to vote on an extension of Article 50 if it fails.

MPs would be able to demand or amend proposals for a nine-month extension. The problem with legislation is it is not a simple process. The bill will require multiple votes in the Commons and pass through the House of Lords to take effect.

 

WHO IS BEHIND IT AND WILL IT SUCCEED?

The bill proposal is a revamp to the plan by Tory former minister Nick Boles which would have seen the heads of all the Commons select committees take control of Brexit. After Boles admitted those chairs were not interested in his idea, he re-worked the plan into this current form.

Therefore it has his backing, as well as that of Tories Nicky Morgan and Sir Oliver Letwin, Labour MPs Hilary Benn and Liz Kendall, and - PoliticsHome understands - the Lib Dems.

The big question is whether the Labour party will back it, which if so should secure its success, but the party has so far refused to confirm its stance. One Labour source said questions remained over how the bill would be debated and voted on, despite the fact that Jeremy Corbyn backs the sentiment of ruling out a no-deal departure.

Another source said: “We’ll look seriously at any proposal to prevent a damaging no deal but no decisions have been taken on the specific amendments yet.”

In a big hint that the party could throw its weight behind the proposal, Shadow Brexit Minister Jenny Chapman told the BBC's Politics Live on Monday that support for the Cooper amendment was "absolutely something we'll seriously consider" because it gives Parliament "the opportunity again to rule out no-deal".

 

ISN'T THERE ANOTHER AMENDMENT KICKING AROUND?

Actually there are a few. There is this one by Tory MP and former minister Dominic Grieve, which would allow a minority of MPs to take control of parliamentary business for a day a week, thereby allowing them to table motions on extending Article 50 or other Brexit proposals.

Another one by Labour pro-Brexit MP Frank Field would give MPs a number of ‘indicative votes’ on Brexit options in the coming weeks, allowing the Commons to work out what there is and is not a majority for. Another being put forward by the Labour frontbench urges the Prime Minister to back its plan for a full customs union with the EU.

 

WHAT IS THE ARGUMENT FOR THE COOPER AMENDMENT?

Cooper says the Government “cannot just push the country into No Deal because they have run out of time”.

She adds: “The Prime Minister should rule out No Deal. But if she won’t, and if nothing else is sorted by the end of February then Parliament should be given a vote on whether to extend Article 50 instead or it will be too late.

"If the Government needs more time to sort this out and come up with a better plan they should be honest enough to admit it and take the steps needed in the national interest to make sure we don’t end up with a chaotic and damaging No Deal. If they won’t, then Parliament needs to be able to step in and put a more sensible process in place instead.”