Time for Theresa May to negotiate 146 pages of Brexit amendments

Written by Josh May on 6 February 2017 in Diary

As the Article 50 bill goes through the Commons, one amendment that might lead to a government defeat has been tabled by Harriet Harman.

While last week’s vote on the Government’s Article 50 bill at second reading was widely described as “historic”, the sessions between Monday and Wednesday could have a big impact on how Theresa May negotiates Brexit.

MPs have tabled 146 pages worth of amendments to the bill. Monday’s discussions will focus on changes related to parliamentary scrutiny and the role of the devolved administrations, and there is little prospect of any government defeats.

Labour’s demand for ministers to come before Parliament at least every two months to discuss the progress of negotiation is one that seems primed for some sort of government reassurance to buy off the Opposition.

One amendment that could feasibly lead to a government defeat is Harriet Harman’s, which would require ministers to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK before getting on with the negotiations (the British Veterinary Association today sounds the alarm about the uncertainty on that sector). That will be up for debate on Monday but any vote on it will be on Wednesday.

The other issues that could put in doubt the Government majority are the circumstances of the parliamentary vote on the final deal and whether it should be for Parliament or the Government to fulfil Theresa May’s threat to walk away from talks.

The Sunday papers featured what looked a lot like a pre-emptive strike from Brexiteer Steve Baker, warning that 27 of his Tory MP colleagues were preparing to back amendments that would “wreck” the bill. Theresa May, meanwhile, is also said to be unwilling to give any ground on those vote issues.

The Guardian cites a government source claiming giving MPs the power either to send her back to the EU if they are unhappy with the final deal or to veto her “cliff-edge” Brexit threat would “hamstring” her in negotiations.

Labour had been hoping that this was the week that Brexit got a little bit easier. While there will be no significant dissent about its amendments, the third reading vote on Wednesday continues to loom uneasily over the party’s discussions. There is a real possibility of further Shadow Cabinet departures: Clive Lewis has left himself very little room to manoeuvre after he promised to vote against the bill if Labour’s changes were not accepted, while all eyes will be on Diane Abbott after her no-show last week.

Meanwhile, the party leadership is still keeping quiet on what disciplinary action – if any – those 13 frontbenchers who rebelled against the three-line whip at second reading will face. The indications coming out of John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn yesterday were that the shadow ministers would be able to keep their jobs, with McDonnell suggesting that defiance of a three-line whip only mandated the resignation of a Shadow Cabinet member and Corbyn stressing that he is “very lenient”.

All these problems would be enough to get most Labour politicians down, but not McDonnell. He boldly predicted that Labour would overturn the Conservatives’ double-digit polling lead within a year. Watch this space…


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