Battle Lines Drawn as Parliament Votes on Delay: Brexit Update

Alex Morales, Kitty Donaldson and Robert Hutton
Battle Lines Drawn as Parliament Votes on Delay: Brexit Update

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Theresa May is still fighting to get her twice-rejected deal through Parliament and has a stark warning for lawmakers: Back the agreement or risk a long delay to Brexit. Opponents are jostling to present rival plans, and a battle over amendments is shaping up for this evening.

Follow our TOPLive blog on Thursday’s votes in Parliament

Key Developments:

Parliament to debate delaying Brexit. Votes expected after 5 p.m.Speaker John Bercow chose four amendments. Here’s a guideTheresa May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, says if there’s no deal by March 20, then Britain will have to take part in EU elections in May and the country will be stuck in a long extensionTrump Says He’s Surprised Brexit Negotiations Going Poorly

Brexiteers Coming Round to May’s Deal? (3:50 p.m.)

Conservative Brexiteer MP Ben Bradley told BBC Radio 5 Live it’s “possible” most members of the Tory pro-Brexit European Research Group caucus could switch to supporting Theresa May’s Brexit deal next week -- especially if the government can convince the Northern Irish DUP to get behind it. “There are probably about 15ish who will not vote for it regardless,” he said.

Labour Is Said to Back Benn Amendment (3:30 p.m.)

The opposition Labour Party will throw its weight behind an amendment to wrest control of parliamentary business from the government next Wednesday, two officials familiar with the matter said.

The amendment, proposed by influential rank-and-file Labour lawmaker Hilary Benn, would overthrow the right of the government to set parliamentary business on March 20, instead allocating time for a Brexit motion allowing a cross-party coalition of lawmakers to set aside future days to debate and chart an alternative path on Brexit. Labour’s support gives the amendment a fighting chance, because it’s also supported by some Conservatives.

Theresa May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, said the amendment would allow Parliament to “usurp the proper role of the executive.”

“It would be unprecedented action and could have far-reaching and long-term implications for the way in which the United Kingdom is governed,” he said.

Tory Says New Leader Needed (3:25 p.m.)

Tory Brexiteer Christopher Chope said in the House of Commons he’d seriously look at backing a Labour no-confidence motion. May has “lost control,” he says. “We need to change the general.”

The Debate is Going to Be Messy (1:50 p.m.)

The vote tonight isn’t a simple question of whether to extend Brexit day or not. Instead the government has worded its motion in a way that basically tells Parliament it faces the choice between approving the deal and taking a short extension to exit day, or failing to approve the deal and being stuck in the EU for much longer.

The motion can be amended, and if it is then the government will probably end up voting against it.

Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, said the prime minister risks a repeat of the chaos in Parliament on Wednesday because of the wording.

“A simple motion today seeking a mandate from this House to ask for an extension of Article 50 for a length and purpose to be negotiated with the EU would have passed by a hefty majority. But again the prime minister risks splits, divisions and chaos by tabling a motion that wraps the question of whether there should be a third meaningful vote into what should be a question of extension.’’

He concluded by saying the plan to bring her Brexit deal back for a third vote in the House of Commons “without even the pretense that anything has changed’’ smacks of “desperation.”

Kinnock Aims for Customs Union Vote Next Week (1:35 p.m.)

Labour lawmaker Stephen Kinnock said if today’s amendment paving the way for indicative votes (amendment I) is successful, he would propose an amendment next week to allow for a vote on a customs union.

“The motion will say that the political declaration will have to be re-written so that we commit to continuing our membership of the economic area after we’ve left the European Union and forming a customs arrangement,” Kinnock said in an interview. The combination of those two elements is known by supporters as Common Market 2.0.

Under the proposal, arrangements would be made to the new relationship during the transition period and would be ready by Dec. 2020, though Kinnock said he expected it could be done faster. He said the amendment would have cross-party support, referring to Tories Nick Boles and Robert Halfon alongside Labour MPs including Lucy Powell.

Lidington: MPs Would Debate Options If No Deal (1 p.m.)

Opening the debate for the government, May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, said if the prime minister’s deal doesn’t go through by the time of the EU summit next Thursday, MPs would then be given the chance to find a way forward in the following two weeks. It implies the government has accepted the idea of so-called indicative votes (see 8 a.m.)

“The government recognizes that the House will require time to consider the potential ways forward in such a scenario,” he said.

Lidington summarizes the choice as: back May’s deal and get a short Brexit extension, or reject May’s deal, take a long extension and let Parliament figure out the way forward.

Bercow Under Fire From Brexiteers Over Choice (12:35 p.m.)

Speaker John Bercow’s rejection of amendment B -- an attempt to rule out a second Brexit referendum -- provoked ire in the House of Commons from pro-Brexit MPs, including from Conservatives Mark Francois and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Another Tory, Caroline Johnson, pointed out that amendment B had more support -- 127 signatories -- than all the other amendments combined.

But Bercow didn’t budge, pointing out the number of signatories is only one factor the speaker considers when choosing amendments.

One senior pro-Brexit minister was not happy with Bercow’s refusal to select the amendment ruling out another referendum. The minister said the Speaker had behaved badly.

Parliament Given Chance to Control Agenda (12:15 p.m.)

Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow selected four amendments to be voted on this evening, in this order. They are:

H - Independent MP Sarah Wollaston’s call for the government to legislate for a second referendumI - Brexit Committee Chairman Hilary Benn’s plan to give time for indicative votes on the Brexit process on March 20E - Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s call for Brexit to be delayed until Parliament has agreed a way forwardJ - Labour MP Chris Bryant’s attempt to stop the government putting May’s Brexit deal to another vote in Parliament

Bercow also selected an amendment to Benn’s amendment (I), which would insert a date for the length of the extension. A person familiar with Corbyn’s strategy said the party was minded to back Benn’s amendment, boosting its chance of success.

Trump Says He ‘Looks Forward’ to U.K. Trade Deal (12 p.m.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said his administration “looks forward” to a “large-scale” trade deal with the U.K. once its divorce from the European Union is complete.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s administration regards a trans-Atlantic agreement as one of the great prizes of Brexit.

May Likely to Ask for Delay Next Thursday (11:55 a.m.)

A U.K. official suggested no further changes to the Brexit deal that Theresa May negotiated with the EU are possible, noting discussions with Brussels on the backstop are “over.”

The official also suggested that May is likely to seek an extension to Article 50 negotiations at the European Council next Thursday. That’s the reasoning behind her urging lawmakers to approve a deal by March 20 or face a lengthy delay to Brexit.

The government earlier released guidance on the process for extending Article 50, noting that “while Article 50 does not set out how this decision should be taken, and in theory the European Council could act by written procedure, to date it has taken all decisions under Article 50 in scheduled meetings.”

May Would Put Deal to Third Vote If ‘Worthwhile’ (11:40 a.m.)

Theresa May will put her Brexit deal -- which has been overwhelmingly rejected twice -- back to Parliament for another vote if she thought it would win support, her spokesman told reporters.

“If it were felt it would be worthwhile to bring the deal back for a new vote then that is something we would do,” James Slack said.

Leadsom Hints Attorney General Could Say More (11:20 a.m.)

In the House of Commons, Tory MP Edward Leigh asked Andrea Leadsom to allow time for a debate on whether the U.K. would be able to use powers in the Vienna Convention to exit the much-hated Irish backstop -- the main hurdle to getting the Brexit deal ratified in Parliament. It’s a common argument among Brexiteers; Leigh has previously proposed an amendment on using the convention.

Leadsom replied that Attorney General Geoffrey Cox had already taken questions on the issue in Parliament, though she added: “I’m sure if he has more to say on this matter, he will come to the House to say it.”

For reference, Cox said this on Tuesday: “A sovereign state has the right to withdraw if a treaty is no longer compatible with its fundamental interests or fundamental circumstances.” He then added a word of caution: “It would be unwise and it would not be in the tradition of this country to do so.’’

No Mention of Deal Vote in Parliament Schedule (11:10 a.m.)

In the House of Commons, Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom is facing criticism from opposition lawmakers after announcing a Parliament schedule for next week that doesn’t include the timing for another vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal -- even though the government sees Wednesday, March 20 as a deadline for getting a deal ratified. The omission doesn’t mean the vote won’t happen.

She’s also being repeatedly quizzed about Conservative whipping arrangements in Wednesday’s vote on a no-deal Brexit. She replied that because the government’s motion was amended, it created a “challenging” situation ahead of the final vote.

Letwin Amendment Calls for Brexit Plan B Votes (11 a.m.)

Tory MP Oliver Letwin proposed an amendment to Thursday’s motion calling for Parliament to have time to debate alternative Brexit plans next week. He wants lawmakers to have non-binding votes on alternatives, known as indicative votes -- it’s an idea supported by several Cabinet ministers (see 8 a.m.).

“Of course the prime minster may bring back more votes in the meantime, but then it’s a race to the finish,” Letwin said. He’s working with MPs from the opposition Labour Party and said he thinks he has the support to pass it.

Referendum Appears in Amendments (10:30 a.m.)

Competing with May’s main text to shape the future of Brexit today are two amendments attempting to force a second referendum. Countering that effort is an effort by both Tory and Labour euroskeptics to strike out a second so-called people’s vote on the basis it would be “divisive and expensive.”

ITV also reported Labour lawmakers Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper, as well as Tory Oliver Letwin, are proposing an amendment calling for an extension to Article 50 to allow for indicative votes in Parliament on various Brexit options.

May Said to Call Meeting of Political Cabinet (10:25 a.m.)

Prime Minister Theresa May has called a meeting of her political Cabinet (excluding civil servants) at 1:30 p.m. ahead of tonight’s parliamentary vote on delaying Brexit, two people familiar with the matter said.

EU’s Tusk Pushes for Long Brexit Delay (9 a.m.)

European Council President Donald Tusk, who coordinates on behalf of the EU’s national governments, said on Twitter he will consult with leaders on a long Brexit delay. “I will appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the U.K. finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it,” he said.

There’s still no consensus among the rest of the EU about how long an extension should be. Diplomats have discussed periods ranging from three months to 21 months. The issue is unlikely to be resolved until leaders meet at a summit in Brussels next week.

Prime Minister Theresa May has proposed a short extension until June 30, but warned last night that if no deal is passed in Parliament by next Wednesday, the delay is likely to last much longer.

Hammond ‘Certain’ MPs Will Vote to Delay (8.30 a.m.)

Philip Hammond has continued his round of broadcast interviews, telling the BBC that he’s “certain’’ MPs will vote to delay Brexit today. He defended ministerial colleagues who had rebelled yesterday, suggesting there had been confusion about what the government’s position was.

He also predicted some MPs who have rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal so far might wobble as they saw Parliament shifting to a softer Brexit. Hammond lent some support to the idea that Attorney General Geoffrey Cox might be able to revise his legal advice in a way that satisfies Brexiteers.

“I’m sure the attorney general will want to consider very carefully all the evidence and all the opinion there is around this issue,’’ Hammond said.

Hammond: Parliament Should Choose Way Forward (8 a.m.)

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond made clearer his call from Wednesday for Parliament to be allowed to say what it does want in Brexit -- rather than simply given opportunities to reject things.

“We now have to find a way forward,” he told Sky News. “I am very happy with the prime minister’s deal. But I think we also have to explore other options for Parliament to express a view about how we resolve this impasse.”

That sounds like a call for indicative votes, an idea that’s been backed by some members of Cabinet since last year. MPs would be given a chance to vote on a series of Brexit options to see which can command a majority. Business Secretary Greg Clark made a similar call last night on ITV’s ‘Peston’ show, saying Parliament “should now come to a view.”

May has repeatedly rejected the idea, and it’s a sign of how shot her authority is that ministers are openly advocating it. Clark was among a group of them who refused to vote as instructed last night.

Minister Stephen Hammond told the BBC the government was allowing so-called free votes on delaying Brexit on Thursday -- an indication May’s office realized that attempting to impose discipline on Wednesday only showed her weakness.


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--With assistance from Ian Wishart, Terrence Dopp, Kathleen Hunter and Tim Ross.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Morales in London at;Kitty Donaldson in London at;Robert Hutton in London at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Emma Ross-Thomas at, Stuart Biggs

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