EXPLAINED: From stopping no-deal to calling a second referendum - all the ‘Plan B’ Brexit amendments MPs could get a vote on

Posted On: 
22nd January 2019

Theresa May’s plan to leave the European Union looks dead in the water after MPs inflicted the biggest Commons defeat in history on the Prime Minister. But the battle over Brexit is far from over - and MPs will soon get the chance to vote on a string of amendments to the motion she tabled setting out her next steps. PoliticsHome is keeping track of all the proposed tweaks that could be selected by Commons Speaker John Bercow next week

MPs are seeking ways to break the Brexit impasse at Westminster
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Corbyn amendment (A) - Avoid a no-deal Brexit through Labour Brexit plan or a second referendum

Here we go then... This amendment from Labour’s frontbench orders the Government to “secure sufficient time” for parliament to vote on different ways of avoiding a no-deal Brexit.

These include sending ministers back to Brussels to negotiate a Brexit plan in line with Labour’s demands for a permanent customs union with the EU and “a strong relationship with the single market”. The party is also pressing for what it calls “dynamic alignment” with the bloc on environmental protections and workers’ rights.

Significantly for Labour, the other option included is a second referendum on any Brexit deal - or in the words of the amendment: "to hold a public vote on a deal or a proposition that has commanded the support of the majority of the House of Commons".

Mr Corbyn has said: "Our amendment will allow MPs to vote on options to end this Brexit deadlock and prevent the chaos of a No Deal."


Cooper amendment (B) - Allow parliamentary time for MPs to vote on a bill extending Article 50

Labour MP Yvette Cooper’s amendment - which has strong cross-party backing, including from senior Conservatives Nick Boles, Nicky Morgan and Sir Oliver Letwin - is a complex but potentially significant one.

Essentially, it would push all Government business in the Commons aside on February 5 in favour of a bill (known as the European Union Withdrawal Bill no 3) seeking to delay Article 50.

If passed, the bill itself would give ministers a deadline of 26 February to get a Brexit deal through the Commons. If they fail, the bill would then give MPs get a vote on extending Article 50 and, again, avoiding a no-deal outcome.

Ms Cooper, who chairs the cross-party Home Affairs Committee, said: "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.”

Labour’s frontbench has already hinted they could back this bid, which would give its chances of passing a significant boost. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said it was "highly likely" his party would get behind it. You can find out more about the ins-and-outs of the Cooper amendment in this handy piece by our chief reporter Emilio Casalicchio.


Cable amendment (C) - Lib Dem push to rule out no-deal and get a second referendum

The Liberal Democrats, who have long campaigned for a so-called People's Vote, were first out of the traps with an amendment calling for a second referendum. The party's bid calls on the Government "to take all necessary steps to rule out a no-deal scenario and prepare for a People’s Vote in which the public will have the option to remain in the European Union on the ballot paper".

Note that this represents a different push for a second vote from the amendment Westminter had been expecting from People's Vote campaigner and Tory MP Sarah Wollaston - that amendment has now been canned (more below) with the campaign blaming a lack of support from the Labour frontbench.


Brake amendment (D) - Lib Dem bid to form a super-committee controlling Commons Brexit business

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake has tabled an amendment looking to set up an "EU Withdrawal Negotiations Business of the House Committee".

This would, the Lib Dems hope, allow a cross-party group of MPs to set Commons business on Brexit, issue reports, appoint advisers and order "persons, papers and records" to try and plan a way forward.

Crucially, the party says the committee would be formed of no more than 17 MPs allocated "based on the proportional vote share of the parties at the last general election" - something that's could raise a few eyebrows with the SNP, which got a smaller chunk of the vote share at the last election than the Lib Dems but has far more MPs.

Explaining the amendment, Mr Brake said: “The Prime Minister might have survived a vote of no-confidence, but she has lost all authority in the House. We will be seeking wide-ranging support for our amendment, so we can get on and rule out a chaotic no-deal and give the people the final say on Brexit.”


Murrison amendment (E) - one more go at curbing the Northern Ireland backstop

Conservative MP Andrew Murrison - who chairs the Northern Ireland Select Committee - has meanwhile re-tabled an amendment that Downing Street had originally hoped would help limit the historic defeat Mrs May suffered when her deal was voted on.

In a move that prompted anger from the Government benches, the amendment - which called for the controversial Northern Irelaand backstop to expire on December 31 2021 - was not selected for a vote by Commons Speaker John Bercow.

But Mr Murrison has now re-tabled the tweak, which he said would insist "on an expiry date to the backstop". He added on Twitter: "Short and sweet. Likely to appeal to moderate MPs who just want #Brexit sorted". A separate amendment from Murrison and fellow backbencher Sir Graham Brady has now become the focus of Number 10's efforts to sent Brussels a message on the backstop, however.


Benn amendment (F) - Let MPs cast ‘indicative’ votes on four different Brexit options

Hilary Benn - the senior Labour MP who chairs the powerful House of Commons Brexit Select Committee - wants the Government to hold a series of “indicative votes” on a whole host of Brexit options.

He’s asking ministers to let MPs have their say on four main options drawn up by his cross-party committee.

They are:

  • Option 1: Holding another vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, which was roundly rejected by the Commons last week.
  • Option 2: Leaving the EU with no deal on March 29 - the current default position.
  • Option 3: Asking ministers to renegotiate the Brexit deal and either a) press for changes to the controversial Northern Ireland backstop; b) push for a Canada-style free trade deal with the EU; or c) opt for a Norway-style softer Brexit by seeking to join the European Economic Area.
  • Option 4: Holding a second referendum “to allow the British people to decide either which kind of Brexit deal they want or whether they wish to remain in the EU”.

Explaining the thinking behind his amendment, Mr Benn told PoliticsHome: "The Prime Minister’s deal has been rejected comprehensively. We know what Parliament is against. The question now is: what might Parliament support? And therefore, it seemed to the Committee, and to me, that we should now give Parliament the opportunity to vote on the options that are available... It’s as simple as that."


Grieve amendment (G) - Give MPs six days in charge of the Commons agenda so they can tell ministers how to proceed

Another highly technical amendment that is generating a lot of buzz in Westminster (including an angry pushback from Downing Street) is Conservative former attorney general Dominic Grieve’s plan to let MPs wrest control of parliamentary business from the Government on a string of days in February and March.

Mr Grieve, who has accused ministers of “refusing to give Parliament the opportunity to express its opinion”, has identified six Tuesdays between now and Brexit day on 29 March in which he’s pushing for Commons business to be controlled by the House itself and not by ministers.

That may not sound particularly incendiary - but it’s the next stage that could have major implications for how Brexit pans out. Essentially, MPs will get the chance to pass resolutions on their preferred Brexit plan which ministers would only ignore at their peril - and with the final day set for March 26, just 72 hours before Britain leaves the EU, it could set the stage for a major showdown.

As the senior Conservative told Sky: “There will be a motion in neutral terms to start the day, which is about looking at Brexit and what’s going on, and then members of Parliament can table amendments for consideration which can be turned into resolutions of the House… A resolution of the House is a pretty solemn thing. If the House says something ought to be done which the Government isn’t doing, the Government can decide to ignore it but historically it would be very unusual in our constitution for that to happen.”

The Grieve amendment has already won the backing of Labour MPs including Chuka Umunna, Chris Bryant, Chris Leslie and Alison McGovern, as well as Conservatives like Anna Soubry, Justine Greening and Sarah Wollaston. Liberal Democrat Tom Brake, the SNP’s Philippa Whitford and the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas are also on board.


Creasy amendment (H) - Delay Article 50 and set up a ‘citizen’s assembly’ to figure out Brexit

This amendment from Labour MP Stella Creasy - which also has the backing of Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb and Green Party leader Caroline Lucas - fleshes out plans for a so-called ‘citizen’s assembly’ to knock heads together and sort out Brexit.

The amendment would first extend Article 50 - delaying the UK’s departure from the bloc - and then order Commons officials to summon a 250-strong “representative sample” of the British population to make recommendations to ministers on a way forward.

Under the terms of the plan, which has the backing of Labour former prime minister Gordon Brown, the assembly would have ten weeks to crack on with its considerations, with ministers getting two weeks to respond.

In a joint piece for the Guardian, Ms Creasy and Lisa Nandy - the Labour MP for Wigan who is also supporting the proposal - said: “As other nations have found, involving citizens in discussions doesn’t diminish politics or politicians – it enhances the value of the conversation for both. With little evidence that more delay will resolve this situation, the public are desperate for us to change our tune. It’s time we let them help choose the music.”


Spelman amendment (I) - cross-party bid to object to no-deal Brexit

This short amendment from Conservative former environment secretary Caroline Spelman is a straightforward bid to express MPs' objections to a no-deal Brexit. It says the House "rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship".

The amendment has attracted a stack of cross-party support, including from Labour frontbenchers Louise Haigh and Bill Esterson and Conservative remainers like Philip Lee and Dominic Grieve.


Reeves amendment (J) - extending Article 50 to take no-deal off the table

This amendment from Business Select Committee chair Rachel Reeves, a Labour MP, calls on Theresa May to push for an extension to Article 50 (thereby postponing Brexit) if no deal has been passed by 26 February.

The tweak has also been signed by senior Conservative Dominic Grieve and the SNP’s Drew Hendry. It seeks to swerve the no-deal Brexit being pushed for by some eurosceptics - but Mrs May has argued that such a move would mean "simply deferring the point of decision" and could weaken her hand in talks with the EU.


Baron amendments (K, L and M) - More Conservative bids to curb the backstop

Conservative MP John Baron has three amendments down looking to signal MPs' objections to the Northern Ireland backstop. The first says MPs "will not approve a Withdrawal Agreement which includes a Northern Ireland backstop".

The second says the House will not approve a deal with a backstop "lasting any longer than six months". Meanwhile the third says MPs won't back a Brexit deal that unless it "includes the right of the UK to terminate a Northern Ireland backstop without having to secure the agreement of the EU".

The three amendments neatly sum up the key objections of Brexiteers to the backstop - and they'll be hoping either of these two, or the Murrison amendments above and below, are selected by Speaker John Bercow to allow them to send a strong signal to Brussels on the Northern Ireland border plan.


Murrison/Brady amendment (N) - Tory bid to replace backstop with 'alternative' arrangements

One to watch. Theresa May has already urged Tory MPs to get behind this amendment - tabled by Conservative backbencher and Northern Ireland Committee chairman Andrew Murrison and Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers - which calls for the hated backstop part her Brexit deal "to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border".

It also "supports leaving the European Union with a deal and would therefore support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change".

However, leading Brexiteers have already heaped scorn on an amendment Downing Street had hoped to use to signal that MPs could get behind Mrs May's deal if the EU agrees to tweak the backstop.

European Research Group chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg said: "There is no mood in the ERG to support it. It's a triumph of hope over experience. If the Government comes forward with an amendment saying it wants to substantially change the backstop that would be a different kettle of fish."


Blackford amendment (O) - SNP and Plaid Cymru bid to urge the Government to request Article 50 extension and rule out no-deal

This amendment from the SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford and Plaid Cymru's Liz Saville Roberts points out that the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly have "voted overwhelmingly to reject the Prime Minister's deal" and demands that ministers seek a Brexit delay by extending Article 50. It warns that the 62% Remain vote in Scotland means the "the people of Scotland should not be taken out of the EU against their will".


Field amendment (P) - indicative votes on seven Brexit options

Independent MP Frank Field has launched his own bid offering MPs a series of 'indicative' votes on a raft of Brexit options. Field is urging MPs to be given a free vote on whether or not they support different outcomes, including a Canada or Norway-style future relationship, tweaks to the backstop, a second referendum, no-deal and Mrs May's agreement.

Mr Field - a Brexiteer - told PoliticsHome that he believed MPs "should have the freedom" to spell out what they're after. "What we’ve had up to now is lots of people pontificating on what we believe," he said. "But nobody actually knows what we believe."

You can find out more about the Field push for indicative votes in this feature from our sister title the House magazine.


AXED: Official ‘People’s Vote’ amendment

Westminster had been braced for a straightforward amendment demanding a second referendum on Brexit from supporters of a so-called ‘People’s Vote’.

However, in a surprise move, Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston decided not to table her bid - and pointed the finger at Labour.

"We recognise that without the unequivocal commitment to back a people's vote from the Labour frontbench that amendment could not pass and so with great regret we will not be laying that amendment because the loto [Leader of the Opposition's Office] will not support it," she said in a statement.