Here Are the Ways Parliament Can Take Control of Brexit

(Bloomberg) --

Can Theresa May get her Brexit deal through Parliament? Is there an alternative plan that can get through instead? The European Union has given Britain an extra two weeks to make a decision, and as the prime minister said, it’s time for members of Parliament to decide what they want. Here are some options facing them in the coming days.

Meaningful Vote 3

The prime minister’s preferred option -- and the EU’s -- is that members of Parliament give way and accept the negotiated deal. The goal is to give them a chance to do that next week, probably on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The first obstacle is that Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow has ruled that the government can’t keep asking the same question in the hope of getting a different answer. But this wouldn’t be a problem if the government had the support of a majority of the chamber -- that rule could simply be set aside.

So the bigger problem is getting the support of a majority. Here May seems to be going backward. Brexiteers who were moving in her direction now sense that they could get their preferred no-deal option, and Labour MPs were put off by her public statements this week.

May refuses to say what she’ll do if her deal doesn’t go through.

Give Parliament Time to Debate Options

Monday is Parliament’s last scheduled chance to intervene in Brexit. An amendment laid by Tories Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve and Labour’s Hilary Benn will try to take control of Parliament’s agenda for a single day, on Wednesday, to allow so-called indicative votes on different routes forward. This was defeated by just two votes last time, so if MPs are angrier, this should pass.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said on Friday that the government would be providing its own mechanism for indicative votes, but trust is so low between the government and MPs that the Letwin mechanism may be preferred.

If the indicative votes happen, the idea is for MPs to be given a whole range of options, on paper, and they’ll be able to vote for all the alternatives that they could live with. This method is supposed to get around the game-playing that has seen MPs vote against ideas they could support, in order to promote their own idea.

Call The Whole Thing Off

There’s bound to be an amendment on Monday calling for the Article 50 exit process to simply be stopped. This idea has had little support in Parliament, but an increasing (though still small) number of MPs are muttering that if May seems determined to go for a no-deal Brexit, then revoking Article 50 might be the only way to stop her. A petition calling for this has attracted record levels of support on Parliament’s website.

Go For A Long Delay

Monday is also likely to see attempts to order May to ask the EU for a long delay of Brexit. In theory, this should command a majority, in line with the majorities for avoiding no-deal. But it would need more than a motion: The government would also have to pass legislation allowing European elections to take place, in order to meet the EU’s requirements.

Second Referendum

If May does manage to have a vote on her deal next week, then Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson will put down an amendment offering to let the deal go through in return for a referendum on it. While Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn may swing behind it, there’s an open question about whether enough MPs would support a fresh plebiscite.

Give MPs Control of the Next Stage

Also likely to come up if May does get her vote is an amendment from Labour’s Lisa Nandy
that would give consent to May’s deal subject to much greater Parliamentary control of the next stage of the process, when the U.K. will negotiate its future relationship with the EU. That would have a lot of support. But Nandy was furious with May after the prime minister attacked Parliament this week, so she might be unwilling to vote for the prime minister’s deal under any circumstances.

Labour’s Brexit Plan

Corbyn has said he’s trying to build a consensus around an alternative Brexit strategy of seeking a customs union, and visited Brussels to discuss it this week. But his outreach attempts to other parties have been marked by his failure to turn up to one meeting and his walking out of another. In any case, the smaller parties reject Brexit altogether, and Corbyn’s model doesn’t even have the support of every Labour MP. It would also still require some form of the Irish backstop that many MPs dislike.

It’s not clear when Labour will put its idea forward for a vote, if at all. The party has tabled a vague amendment for Monday calling for the government to give time for indicative votes.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.