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Analysis

Confused? MPs just took big step towards People’s Vote

by Hugo Dixon | 13.03.2019

MPs have voted against crashing out with no deal – and the prime minister has said Brexit will be delayed. But she’ll have one last try to push her miserable deal through Parliament next week.

This is all extremely complicated. But the bottom line is that we have taken another big step towards a People’s Vote and stopping Brexit.

After losing tonight’s vote on “no deal”, Theresa May said she would ask the EU to delay Brexit. But she proposed a two-pronged approach. If MPs back her deal by next Wednesday, she will request a short delay until the end of June so she can wrap up the legalities.

But if MPs don’t back her deal, she says it is “highly likely” that the delay will be longer and we will hold European Parliament elections in May. The prime minister is using this as a threat to try to whip hardline Brexiters to back her deal, which MPs voted down only yesterday by 149 votes. She wants Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and the DUP to swallow their pride and suck up this miserable deal – for fear of losing Brexit completely.

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Her proposal of how to move forward is set out in a motion that MPs will debate tomorrow. As always, however, there is some confusion. The motion is somewhat ambiguous about what happens if MPs refuse to back her deal by Wednesday. It just predicts what the European Council will decide next Thursday rather than saying what the prime minister herself will do – and it doesn’t say how long a delay she will ask for in that scenario.

The prime minister’s motion can also be amended tomorrow. And the Speaker may say she is breaking House of Commons procedure by asking MPs to vote again on a motion – a potential third “meaningful vote” – that they have already rejected without any changes at all. So it is not even clear that she will be able to proceed with her plan.

But let’s assume she manages to. In that scenario, a lot hangs on whether she can arm-twist the hardliners to back her deal. How will Johnson go down in history if he turns us into what he used to call a “vassal state”? Will he really crumble when faced with the threat of a long delay and holding the European Parliament elections? And even if he does, will that be enough for May to get her deal over the line?

If she fails, the country will face two main options: a softer Brexit or consulting the people. It will certainly be important to test out the various softer options – such as staying in the EU’s customs union permanently or staying in its single market as well. But it is likely at the end of the process that all these varieties of Brexit will be found wanting. They will turn us into political eunuchs – following the EU’s rules without a vote on them. At that point, the obvious solution will be to ask the people whether they still want Brexit.

That’s the prize. And tonight it is closer.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

2 Responses to “Confused? MPs just took big step towards People’s Vote”

  • 1) Carole Cadwalladr suggested today that Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore have been to see Lega Nord, the Italian far right party that has signed a deal with Putin. https://twitter.com/carolecadwalla/status/1105797205712093184 The suggestion is that Farage is trying to get EU 27 states to block any request to extend A50. Just one EU state could block a formal extension. It’s also been said that a group of Tory MPs went to Poland last week to discuss this possibility: https://twitter.com/patrickwintour/status/1105809429830750208
    2) Farage was questioned about contact with right wingers in the EU, and specifically Mr. Salvini, on the BBC after the vote tonight and did not deny it- he said he would do “whatever I can to get a veto at the European Council next Thursday because that would deliver Brexit”.
    3) Further down Cadwalladr’s thread Jolyon Maugham indicates a way round this. It appears that the Withdrawal Agreement is passed by qualified majority voting and that the date to leave could be added into the W.A. beside a plan for a referendum. He’s apparently described this in a Prospect piece.

  • It is as though they are playing some kind of board game for high stakes, not governing our country. With every passing minute millions are being wasted that could be put to use rebuilding our country. They play their games and we pick up the tab. Disgusting.