Parliament Is Still Trying to Take Control of Brexit. Here’s How

(Bloomberg) -- As Prime Minister Theresa May tries to forge a Brexit compromise with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, rank-and-file lawmakers are trying to find a way to avert their worst-case scenario of a no-deal Brexit.

Two rounds of voting on various Brexit options failed to produce a majority for an alternative to May’s deal, and members of Parliament voted on Wednesday not to hold another session to find a compromise next week. But they voted -- by a margin of one -- to attempt to fast-track legislation to take a no-deal Brexit off the table, which could pass the House of Commons tonight.

How Does the Bill Work?

Submitted by Labour MP Yvette Cooper with cross-party sponsorship, the bill would force the prime minister to present a Brexit extension date to the House of Commons the day after the legislation is passed. Lawmakers would vote on the date and potentially amend it before May presents the plan to the EU. A further vote would be needed if the bloc sent the premier back with an alternative date.

The bill’s sponsors want to secure its passage through the Commons on Wednesday, an unusually rapid timetable that was the subject of protests from Brexiteers. But Speaker John Bercow overruled them, saying such speed was acceptable. The bill is due to be debated until 10 p.m., when there will be a vote.

If it passes the Commons, the legislation would go to the House of Lords on Thursday, where there’s a pro-EU majority.

How Quickly Can It Go Through the Lords?

Conservative MP Oliver Letwin, another of its backers, says it is likely to pass through “very rapidly” given the “overwhelming” support among members of the unelected upper chamber for the measure. Peers will first debate a motion to ensure the bill can get through in one session.

Will There Be More Plan B Votes?

There was a proposal for more votes on options on Monday, but, as part of Wednesday’s parliamentary business, lawmakers voted against giving themselves more time to find alternatives to May’s Brexit plan.

What If May and Corbyn Don’t Agree?

In her speech Tuesday, May promised to present a “number of options for the future relationship” between the U.K. and the EU for Parliament to consider -- and pledged to deliver on whatever MPs decide. That’s a similar process to the rank-and-file lawmakers’ own process, but in this case, the options would have been agreed by the government.

What’s Happening, and When?

All these are London time, and approximate.

  • 7 p.m. A vote on the general principle of Cooper’s bill, officially the Second Reading of the EU Withdrawal (No. 5) Bill. If it’s rejected, it’s thrown out.
  • 10 p.m. Committee Stage. Votes on proposed amendments to the bill, likely to include calls for the removal of the Irish backstop and calls for a second referendum. Linked amendments can be voted on together. Each vote takes 15 minutes.
  • After those are finished. Third Reading -- a vote on the bill, as amended in the earlier votes, or in original form.

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