MPs are close to taking back control of Brexit from PM

by Hugo Dixon | 30.11.2018

A clever cross-party amendment rejects Theresa May’s miserable deal, rejects crashing out of the EU with no deal at all and insists that MPs can change any new plan the government dreams up. As such, it helps answer the criticisms that voting down the deal means we will quit with no deal and that Parliament will not be able to tell the prime minister what to do.

The MPs want to amend the government’s motion to approve May’s deal in the so-called “meaningful vote” on December 11. If it is passed – and there seems a good chance that it will be – Parliament would be taking back control of Brexit from the prime minister and imposing its own will on the process. When all the shouting is done, they are likely to back a People’s Vote with an option to stay in the EU.

The amendment was put down yesterday by Hilary Benn, the Labour MP who chairs the backbench Brexit committee. He is supported by a powerful phalanx of backbenchers from across the political divide – including Dominic Grieve and Sarah Wollaston from the Tories, and Rachel Reeves and Yvette Cooper from Labour

The Labour leadership is also backing the amendment. Keir Starmer, the opposition Brexit spokesperson, said today it had his “full support”. That’s not surprising. The text is similar to Labour’s own amendment. Sensibly Starmer is allowing the cross-party backbench amendment to take centre stage, as it will be much easier for non-Labour MPs then to rally behind it.

There may be other amendments to the government’s motion. But this is the big one – and the one the prime minister will struggle to defeat.

Bye bye Project Fear, hello People’s Vote

If the amendment passes, not only will May’s miserable deal have been defeated, the door will then be open to a sensible debate about what to do next. Her Project Fear – threatening MPs with the abyss if they don’t buy her deal – will have been scotched.

Sceptics will point out that such an amendment won’t be legally binding. But woe betide the prime minister if she defies the will of Parliament after failing to pass her flagship policy.

The kicker in Benn’s amendment is a clause that will let MPs amend the “follow-on” motion that the government is required to produce setting out what it wants to do if the motion approving its deal is rejected. Under legislation passed during the summer, it has to present a plan to MPs within 21 days and put it to the vote within seven “sitting” days of that. After taking account of the Christmas holidays, the final deadline is January 15.

The government insists that this “follow-on” motion would be in so-called neutral terms, meaning that MPs would merely note what it planned to do next. But Benn’s amendment suspends the part of the House of Commons’ Standing Orders which says such motions can’t be changed.

What this means is that, if Benn gets his way, MPs will be in the driving seat. They will no doubt spend a bit of time on the Norway Plus blind alley – which would have us stay in the single market and customs union, following the EU’s rules and trade policies without a say on them.

But MPs will probably rapidly conclude that the only sensible option is a People’s Vote. Indeed, with Labour’s John McDonnell saying earlier this week that such a vote would be “inevitable”, it’s hard to see any other outcome.

Sceptics will pipe up again and say that Parliament can’t force the government’s hand if it doesn’t want to pass the legislation that would be required to hold a People’s Vote. But that’s not true. When the follow-on motion comes to the vote, MPs could easily amend it to suspend further parts of the Standing Orders so they can take control of the Parliamentary timetable and pass their own emergency legislation. Again, it would be foolish for the prime minister to try to stop them.

This is a parliamentary democracy. If MPs want something enough, they will ultimately get it.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

13 Responses to “MPs are close to taking back control of Brexit from PM”

  • This is rubbish as they have too by law enact the first part which is leave. WTO is the fallback option. A lot of rubbish by site like this

  • “Sceptics will point out that such an amendment won’t be legally binding. But woe betide the prime minister if she defies the will of Parliament after failing to pass her flagship policy.”

    I reckon May will try to defy the commons one way or another. She’s stubborn as a mule so it’s brexit at all costs for her and damn the consequences for everyone else. She’s already defied the commons on supplying that legal info with that binding request, so she’s got form there.

    The only way to stop May is to stop her in her tracks by force, such as that described later in the article.


  • Bob Smith Putin, nice try but your terrible English gave you away. For your information the referendum was advisory and not legally binding.

  • How could it be rubbish to remove HMG’s intended fallback option? It’s true as Hugo Dixon says that the government needn’t comply. But if the consequence of its failure to comply were a No Deal exit of UK from EU, then the governing party would be blamed for the bad consequences. And I assume that May still hopes that people may vote Conservative, so that it would be foolhardy for her to prevent MPs taking control in the way Benn envisages.
    + we’d be able to stop accusing May of having no respect for the sovereignty of the UK Parliament even while she means us to detest the EU for its (supposed) impact on UK sovereignty.

  • Just as in the Gen Election campaign of 2017 she is repeating the same pre-prepared phrases and soundbites ad infinitum. She is like a parrot and people switch off from this sort of thing. She could not sell anything; wooden with no personality. That is why she is called the Maybot.

    We are also getting the false claims as well and I gather they have launched a camping on Facebook (wouldn’t know because I do not use it).

    To Bob above. They do not have to enact the result of the referendum because it was only advisory and not compulsory. A C Grayling has proved this time and time again. Th

  • Bob,
    There isn’t a law. Just Article 50 which may be withdrawn maybe even unilaterally, but certainly if the other 27 EU nations agree to it. This would also be fairly likely since they are well aware of the turmoil Brexit has caused to the UK, and also of the fact the main drivers for Brexit are a bunch of Disaster Capitalists in the Conservative Party.

  • So you think it is a good thing to defy the referendum result with an option to stay in the EU? That’s not Brexit at all, which means that this website is not about democracy, it’s about surrender to the bloated I democratic EU. Wake up, there has already been a People’s Vote, it was called the referendum, it happened over two years ago, and just because Theresa May has fudged it, does not change the Democratic result of the referendum. Everyone who is seeking to overturn that is a traitor to democracy. And don’t tell me Brexit is a disaster, no one KNOWS exactly what the results look like, we are all being bombarded by politically biased information. But at least we will have British sovereignty back, and not be a satellite state of an undemocratic, unaccountable corrupt ailing European federation. It’s essential that we leave and leave fully, because if we do t, no country will ever have the courage to stand up to the EU bullying again.

  • i agree with Mickey that she’s likely to try to defy parliament, that has been the pattern all along. As Hugo says, it’s foolish, but she is foolish. At this point it will be interesting to see if the tabloids denounce parliament as enemies of the people

  • The conclusion of this article is that MP’s have the power to do and get what they want, if there are enough of them of similar mind, regardless of what they have been instructed to do in the largest Referendum in modern times. The implication here is that MP’s powers exceed those of the people in Referendum – it is the people who are sovereign not Parliament !

  • Article 50 was (stupidly) passed by parliament with a large majority. Unless Article 50 is withdrawn by parliament before 29/03/2019, as from then the UK is no longer a member of the EU. There seems to be no leadership in attempting to withdraw Article 50 so the UK will leave the EU in whatever status exists on 29/03//2019.

  • Extraordinary that a page calling itself “Anti-EU” would carry Remainist rubbish like this; the co-called People’s Vote” is just the usual EU practice of; “You plebs gave the wrong answer. Vote again, and again until you get it right”

  • If nothing else, it feels as if the UK is now entering a period of Russian roulette. Very dangerous. By the way, the analogy with Russia shouln’t be lost here – the alleged interference, collusion and manipulation of voters for Brexit will eventually come to light. This should make us all shudder when the truth comes out eventually.
    Fast forward to the here and now. On the basis that MP’s in some respects are caught between a rock and a hard place, wrestling party loyalty with their duty to do the right thing over the December parliamentary vote, I believe there is a way out for them, in the immediate aftermath. There is a strong case for forming a new political grouping of national unity. How?
    This would be for a substantial grouping of MPs to declare (after the vote) a temporary umbrella bloc but which allows MPs to retain their individual party colours – temporarily formed in the national interest. This bloc might have the name ” The British European Unity Group”. Each MP would simply declare that they are, say, a Labour MP or Tory MP of the BEU Group, with the sole mandate to force withdrawal of Article 50, then organise a new referendum. They would form a large enough a bloc to create a majority. Once it has achieved its aims, the umbrella group would dissolve.
    Why not? The UK requires proper leadership. Now and quickly.
    It’s pointless looking at the current “leaders” – we’ve seen what’s on offer, and frankly they look appalling!
    MPs can’t predict their own continuing career but they can predict what their own procrastination, indecision and self-interest could lead to.
    Buyers remorse will be too late – it won’t help failed businesses, and public services starved of lost national income. The damage will have been done.

  • At last, at the eleventh hour when some of us were despairing that our MPs might remember that we live in a supposed parliamentary democracy, Hilary Benn and his co-signatories have opened up the possibility that the national interest might just prevail over ignorance, bigotry and nationalist delusions.