Frustrated British MPs try to take control of Brexit
With time running out, here are some (conflicting) outcomes British MPs are demanding of the beleaguered Theresa May
London — British MPs frustrated with Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy are seeking to force a new approach, which could include delaying Britain’s exit from the EU and holding a second referendum.
The House of Commons rejected May’s withdrawal deal last week, leaving Britain on course to exit the EU on March 29 with no deal. She has promised to try once again to amend the agreement, but critics say she will not succeed — and that parliament must now take control.
May has promised a debate and votes on the way forward on January 29.
The government introduced a parliamentary motion late on Monday setting the stage for the discussions, and groups of MPs have already begun proposing amendments.
What do the MPs want?
1. Customs union or second referendum
An amendment introduced by opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn demands parliamentary time to debate and vote on options to avoid a no-deal Brexit. These include negotiating a new UK-EU customs union and a “strong relationship” with the EU’s single market, and holding a second referendum.
2. Indicative votes
Senior Labour MP Hilary Benn has proposed an amendment demanding that the government hold a series of votes designed to test what the Commons wants. These would include votes on leaving the EU with no deal, holding a second referendum, or renegotiating with Brussels.
3. MPs take control
Former Conservative government lawyer Dominic Grieve has introduced a cross-party amendment that would force the government to allow six days throughout February and March for MPs to debate and vote on Brexit options.
The latest of the dates would be March 26, just three days before Britain leaves the EU.
4. Delay Brexit
Labour MP Yvette Cooper has proposed an amendment to force the government to make time in the Commons to debate her own bill preventing a no deal Brexit. Under this legislation, if there is no Brexit deal by February 26, the government must delay Britain’s departure from the bloc until December 31 2019.
This has the support of some former ministers in May’s Conservative party.
The only thing that can force an unwilling government to act is legislation — which is why Cooper has introduced her own bill. However, she might struggle to get this through parliament in time.
Are they right to try?
International trade secretary Liam Fox accused MPs of trying to “hijack Brexit” and defy the 2016 vote to leave the EU. But Corbyn said the government has no new ideas and “MPs must now act to break the deadlock”.
Benn added: “MPs doing their job are not plotters, they are trying to sort out the mess the prime minister has created.”
Will they succeed?
Not all amendments will be put to a vote — the selection will be made on the morning of January 29 by Commons speaker John Bercow. Any that are chosen need support from all sides. It is unlikely that Corbyn’s plan would command the support of any Conservative MPs.
Technically, any amendments agreed would not be legally binding, but it would be politically hard for the prime minister to ignore them. “It’s an opportunity for the House [of Commons] to express its political will,” her spokesperson said.
This would be particularly true if a significant number of Conservative MPs backed any amendment.
The government is under pressure to allow a free vote by its MPs, with reports that failure to do so could result in a slew of ministerial resignations.