Oliver Letwin succeeded in passing his amendment that sought to give MPs a non-binding but indicative vote.

 

March 29 2019, for the past two years, was expected to be the day the United Kingdom exited the European Union. At the time of writing, Brexit Day could be 12 April, 22 May or possibly beyond. The passion for and largely against the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) on the benches of the House of Commons is unprecedented. The rancour between Remainers and Leavers is not confined to Westminster, it exists in families and between friends.

Oliver Letwin succeeded in passing his controversial amendment, with a small majority of 27, that sought to give MPs a non-binding but indicative vote on a variety of Brexit types. This essentially gave Parliament control of government for the day. One MP called it “a dangerous constitutional change” because it is Parliament’s job to scrutinise government, not to govern; but not one of the eight indicative votes was passed. The top 2/3 (Second Referendum/Customs Union/Labour’s Alternative Brexit Plan) will probably reappear on Monday, 1 April, looking to gather support.

When the government whipped Conservatives to vote to approve the extension of Article 50 on Wednesday, in a sign of things to come, there were 67 abstentions, including seven Cabinet Ministers and the Deputy Chief Whip amongst other members of government.

Following the indicative and the extension voting, the exasperation and anger was palpable, one MP said British democracy was on a drip feed. May appeared before the 1922 Committee and said she would resign earlier if MPs passed her WA on Friday, an extraordinary ransom for capitulation. It seemed there was no escape from May’s unwanted deal.

On Friday the government presented the WA for approval separated from the Political Declaration (which defines the future relationship with the EU), a ruse to bypass the Bercow rule that the same proposal cannot come back without substantial change. This was not the Third Meaningful Vote, it was another attempt to pass Theresa May’s deal, which includes the Backstop; the Backstop that could tie UK to the EU Customs Union in perpetuity. Some Leaver MPs reluctantly decided to “hold their noses” and back May, justifying their decision because the circumstances and choices had changed. They felt May’s bad Brexit option was preferable to the other options that had just failed the indicative votes. But some brave MP’s refused to surrender and the third time was not lucky for the PM. The WA failed again on its third appearance: 344 MPs voted against the government motion, with 286 in favour—a majority of 58. The DUP did not support the PM as the WA/Backstop went against the confidence and supply arrangements.

What next? The EU say they will not grant further extension without a specific purpose, they might impose conditions: perhaps insisting UK partake in EU parliamentary elections, or hold a second referendum or a general election?

The No Deal option is still available on 12 April, the EU say they are ready. Chris Heaton-Harris, Minister for DexEU, this week has been sharing all the UK preparations made in the event of No Deal. Theresa May’s options are few: give in to Backbench MPs? A general election? Resign? The last is what folks are expecting imminently, the leadership contenders are already lining up. Some Conservatives are proposing a condensed timetable to establish two leadership candidates within a week, thereby having a new Prime Minister by 10 April, two days before the last gasp for No Deal. 85% of Conservative grassroots favour Boris Johnson.

 

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