Brexit 5: Amendments on Amendments

Amendments on amendments

This week, a series of votes were held in Parliament on Theresa May’s Brexit strategy. One of the most significant being the Cooper/Letwin amendment.

Labour MP, Yvette Cooper, and Conservative grandee, Sir Oliver Letwin MP, offered a positive outcome for pro-remain MPs when their amendment passed this week, calling on Theresa May to submit a request to extend Article 50 should her deal not be passed by MPs.

However, in the knowledge that Theresa May would lose this vote, ahead of the amendment she made a commitment in the Commons to offer MPs an opportunity to request an extension should her deal not be passed.

The Prime Minister faced major pressure to support the principles behind this amendment with senior Cabinet Members including: Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Amber Rudd, Justice Secretary, David Gauke, and Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, alledgedly threatening to resign from Government to support the amendment, rather than allow a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

Pas si vite!

With the possibility of the UK requesting an extension of Article 50 growing each passing day, European leaders are reacting to the new turn of events. Emmanuel Macron has stated that there needs to be a “clear reason” for France to agree on an Article 50 extension. Speaking at a joint press conference with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, President Macron further explained that the EU is open to consider an extension but indicated that the British need to make new choices first.

Meanwhile, Merkel took a more conciliatory stand confirming that Germany will not refuse an extension if the UK Government requests one but, in pure German fashion, she asked for an “orderly” Brexit.

Donald Tusk has also had his say this week regarding a possible delay on Brexit. Speaking at the first EU summit with the Arab League, Tusk said that with the deadline looming closer and the British Parliament still too divided to reach an agreement, an extension seams “rational”.

As for Mr Juncker’s view on extending Article 50, he had earlier in the month declared “that to my mind would be an irony of history. Yet I cannot rule it out,” to later clarify that no one in the EU would oppose an extension.

How bad could a ‘no deal’ really be?

While UK policy-makers seem to be still at an impasse, the UK Government has published its assessment of the impact of a ‘no deal’ Brexit on business and trade, which states that some “food prices are likely to increase” and customs checks at the border could translate into £13bn cost a year for business in the event of a no-deal scenario.

The assessment highlights that the food supply will be affected by delays in the Channel and, these delays “would lead to reduced availability and choice of products”. The assessment also repeats previously published analysis by the Government and the Bank of England which suggest that a ‘no deal’ scenario could leave the UK economy 6.3% to 9% smaller after 15 years than if the UK remained in the EU. According to this analysis, the areas more affected by a ‘no deal’ scenario would be Wales (-8.1%), Scotland (-8.0%), Northern Ireland (-9.1%) and the north east (-10.5%).

The paper warns that as of February 2019, many businesses in the food supply industry are still unprepared for ‘no deal’ and that 85% preparation projects – and over two-thirds of the most critical ones – are “on track”.

Chicken Run

They promised to spice up British politics, so it was only fitting that The Independent Group celebrated its first meeting at Nando’s this week. Proving that while the South African chicken chain is loved by everyone, now it’s for politicians who want to pretend like they’re everyone.

However, in under a week and a half, the new Independent Group of 11 breakaway MPs claim to have changed the course of British politics, pushing the Labour Party to move towards a second referendum and the PM to potentially delay Brexit. Almost impossible to imagine a few weeks ago, it has been a remarkable start by anyone’s standards, and will only serve to embolden those MPs who are teetering on the edge of resigning the whip, too.

Although a plan to hold another referendum seems unlikely to get through Parliament, the notion that Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was forced into announcing a position towards a ‘people’s vote’, for fear of a split, is proof that this week saw traditional command-and-control party politics turned on its head.

What’s next?

Theresa May has promised to put her deal up for a vote in the House of Commons by 12th of March. Fearing she will lose this vote, May has stated that if her deal is rejected, the Parliament will decide by 14th March whether to leave with no deal, or to request an extension of Article 50 to the EU, which according to May would last only until the end of June. It is unlikely that this delay can be further extended as the upcoming European Elections in May would put the UK in an awkward position. Taking part in these elections would send a mixed signal to those who voted to leave the EU and not taking part in the elections would make a further extension almost impossible.

There are rumours that the Labour Party is, however, considering allowing Theresa May’s deal pass by abstaining during the next vote in the Commons, as long as the Government agrees to have a second referendum to allow people to vote on the final agreement.

If this fails and the UK Parliament decides to vote on requesting an extension, the procedure will most probably take the form of a free vote, which could spark further resignations across the Cabinet and beyond.