MPs must clean up PM’s ‘delay Brexit’ motion

by Hugo Dixon | 14.03.2019

It is good that Theresa May is finally asking for extra time. She brought this upon herself and the country by wasting so much time in the past two years.

But the prime minister is also trying to hold another vote on her miserable deal – and to bully MPs into backing it. This is bad. There are three specific problems with the motion MPs are being asked to vote on tonight.

Yet another vote on the same deal

MPs voted against the deal only on Monday. She could argue it was slightly tweaked from the version they rejected in January. But if she brings back the deal yet again by Wednesday, as she is threatening to, it will be exactly the same as Monday’s.

The Speaker must not allow this. It flouts House of Commons standing orders which say that the same motion can’t be brought back again in the same parliamentary session – as a helpful amendment from Labour’s Chris Bryant makes clear today.

Will she ask for a long extension if she fails?

The prime minister suggested last night that, if she can’t get her deal through Parliament at its third attempt, she will ask the EU to delay Brexit beyond the end of June. That’s part of her attempt to dragoon hardline Brexiters in her party to back her deal. But her motion doesn’t actually say this. It leaves the matter entirely open.

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MPs could, therefore, reject her deal yet again and she might still ask only for a short extension until the end of June. This will not be long enough to do anything constructive – neither to explore softer forms of Brexit nor to hold a People’s Vote. We will be left with the same two ghastly choices: her deal or crashing out. In such a scenario, she would have a fourth go at ramming her deal down MPs’ throats.

Will she try to delay European elections in the UK?

The prime minister is saying we will have to hold European Parliament elections if there’s a long delay. That’s also part of her ploy to bamboozle the hardliners to back her deal. But her motion only says this is “highly likely”. Some EU governments think it would be possible to change the treaties so our participation in the elections can be delayed until we have figured out exactly what we want to do. But, of course, if May said that, her threat wouldn’t carry as much punch.

Although the prime minister’s motion marks progress compared to where we were a few days ago, it is far from perfect. It must be cleaned up. A cross-party amendment from a group of senior backbenchers – including Labour’s Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper, as well as Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve from the Tories – does just that.

It snips off the contentious stuff suggesting a third vote on the prime minister’s deal. Instead, it says there should be extra time to “enable the House of Commons to find a way forward that can command majority support” – and books a day in Parliament next Wednesday to start the process.

MPs should rally behind this amendment. And, if they succeed in forcing it through, the prime minister should not repeat her error from yesterday of whipping against the amended motion. She should accept the will of Parliament with grace and start acting in the national interest.

This article was updated after publication to add the reference to Chris Bryant’s amendment.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

8 Responses to “MPs must clean up PM’s ‘delay Brexit’ motion”

  • I agree with the analysis set out here. However as an active supporter of the “people’s vote” approach I am anxious above all to avoid crashing out with no withdrawal agreement and no transitional period . If it becomes clear that no form of “putting it back to the people” is permitted by parliament I for one would rather see May’s deal going through than permit the ultimate calamity of “no deal”. For all its faults it is simply wrong to depict May’s deal as no better than no deal. Almost every business in the land would agree with me on that.

  • Mogg made a revealing comment on Channel 4 news last night. When asked how he would feel if he didn’t get the Brexit he wanted, he said: “We will have to work to improve it.” Seems to bear out what InFacts has been saying for some time.

  • May’s deal of no deal is the frying pan versus the fire, neither is remotely acceptable.

    Further debate is essential and it will probably have to go back to the people at some point. The continued plea to respect the referendum result is a plea to respect electoral fraud and cheating, it is just not a tenable position.

    Debate about Europe should be ideally be refocused on whether we want to join the Euro and Schengen and a more closely integrated United Europe, or stay as we are. People would flock to both sides of this debate instead of the current division between Remainers and Leavers. A decision to remain as we are would then be seen as a victory by those who currently style themselves hard Brexiters.

  • Why complicate the issue by introducing the matter of the Euro which has never been part of the Remain or Brexit consideration?

  • Just as a means of reframing the argument, which is entirely artificial anyhow but the existence of awkward personalities in parliament, who genuinely believe the EU to be the work of the devil, means they need something to get awkward about, a focus for their zealotry.

  • Reports that brexiteers are seeking to rely on the doctrine of fundamental change of circumstances to wriggle out of the backstop, highly unlikely to be accepted given the high threshhold required to satisfy the test, proves what I’ve been saying from the very beginning of this squalid story – the UK is negotiating in bad faith. From Dippy Davies’s so-called negotiations, Maygabe’s repeated attempts to undo the agreements she’s signed, to the statements from Mao Gove, Faux Fox and the other Horsemen of the brexit Apocalypse that they intend to renege on the WA, prove this. Scum.

  • I really get fed up with the shallowness of the arguments I read around Brexit. Deal, No Deal, do it by 31st October, apply for an extension, I support Mr A, or Mr B, etc., etc. We said it should happen by….etc. None of this type of communication (it just can’t be called debate) has any depth.
    Let’s look at some of the key issues.
    a. Democratic deficit: This is not an us v. them discussion, it’s us v. us. We elect members of the European Parliament, and the Government which provides its representative in the European Councils. These are the decisional bodies. We also provide a Commissioner, appointed by our government (who elected them?) for the EU’s Civil Service, as does each Member State, and a European Court Justice. Incredible that our MPs always take credit for good decisions, and blame faceless EU bureaucrats (and who are these? see above) for bad decisions. It was always extremely unlikely if any one of the big three (UK, France or Germany) disliked a policy it would get off the starting grid.
    b. Immigration: there is the charge that immigrants exhaust UK social services. And the EU requires us to accept unlimited immigration. The vast majority of EU immigrants come to work, pay taxes, council tax. Yes, they have children who need school places. Yes, they get ill from time to time, and need medical care. But many of the discussing attacks on immigrants were on non-EU