BCW Political Insight: Kicking the can down the road (again)

2.27.19 • Thought Leadership

Once again, Brexit’s “moment of truth” has been and gone. This time, however, things have changed.

Faced with a major rebellion from her own Ministers determined to halt a no deal Brexit, the Prime Minister did what she has done so many times before and made concessions, so she can live to fight another day.

There will now be a ‘meaningful (final) vote’ on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal no later than 12th March. If the PM is defeated, Parliament will then be asked if it backs leaving the EU without a deal – which will be rejected.

Finally, as a result of the PM’s latest climbdown, MPs will be asked if they wish to apply for an extension to Article 50 (which currently has the UK leaving the EU on 29 March), likely delaying Brexit until June. This will happen if the PM’s deal is rejected.

A damp squib?

The Prime Minister’s assurances for a possible extension appear to be enough to take the sting out of this evening’s Parliamentary votes. Backbench MPs Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin will this evening pull their attempt to legislate on extending Article 50 should they receive the appropriate reassurances from Ministers during the debate.

The amendment with the best chance of passing is in the name of Alberto Costa and promises to protect the rights of EU citizens regardless of whether a deal is reached. Costa followed convention and resigned his government position in order to table the amendment, which has cross-party support and may even be backed by the Government.

Labour’s position

The Labour Party’s position on Brexit continues to evolve, with Jeremy Corbyn now prepared to back a second referendum.

The change in position is a symptom of the party’s internal struggle, with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer key figures in bringing Corbyn towards his current position. Last week’s Labour defections also shocked the Labour leader, with the move to support a second referendum designed to stop the haemorrhaging of MPs.

Despite this change, there doesn’t appear to be a Parliamentary majority for a second referendum. Several Labour MPs oppose the move, meaning a significant Conservative rebellion would be required for any amendment supporting a referendum to pass.

For Corbyn, this may be the ideal scenario – support for Remainers, without drawing Leavers’ ire in a future vote.

The way forward?

Yesterday’s announcement represents the first significant concession the Prime Minister has made to the pro-European wing of her party, and all-but eliminates the threat of a no deal Brexit on 29th March.

It also increases the chances that the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal will be passed - although this is starting from a very low point. Faced with an extension of Article 50 and a Parliament that favours a softer Brexit, hard-line pro-Brexiteers may decide that Prime Minister’s deal represents the “least-worst option”.

Should Attorney General Geoffrey Cox return from Brussels with a legal assurance robust enough to convince the DUP it can back the deal, hard-line Brexiteers may feel they have enough cover to support the PM after all. With the addition of 10-15 Labour ‘Dealers’ – who are appalled by the prospect of a no deal or second referendum – the Prime Minister may have a path to a majority.

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