George Pascoe-Watson: Brexiteers losing in extra time if they refuse to back Theresa May’s deal

Written by George Pascoe-Watson on 19 March 2019 in Opinion

TOMORROW it’s 999 days since the EU referendum.

That’s an emergency alarm call for the hardcore Brexiteers.

Some of them get it, some of them don’t.

There are sound technical reasons why failing to back the PM’s Withdrawal Agreement now could see Britain remain in the EU for ever.

It’s not an exaggeration or Project Fear to say there is a very real chance of Britain missing the Brexit boat.

Better to take a 4-3 victory, snatched in extra time with an own goal than hold out for a 7-0 triumph which will never happen, in football parlance.

We know that Britain will now not be delivered on March 29.

Some hardcore European Research Group figures say Britain is now on course for a No Deal exit a week on Friday.

They see Speaker Bercow’s decision to all-but forbid a third meaningful vote a clear route to quitting the Union without a deal.

But Theresa May is considering her options. What few there are.

And one is to ask the EU for a year long delay to the triggering of Article 50 with a break clause in the hope she can win Commons support for her WA.

If granted by EU leaders this week, it will trump UK law and thus keep us in the union regardless.

But look what happens next.

The Speaker is thought to be working closely with the Remain side to foil Brexit.

Critics say he is either ripping up the rules when it suits him – or using precedent when he needs it.

Ministers expect him to provide time for an SO24 debate in the Commons – which last three hours and are on neutral terms with a motion.

Mr Speaker is likely to allow the neutral motion to be amended so MPs can consider a substantive motion.

And here’s where problems lie for hardcore Brexiteers.

It may well be a vehicle to return to the Letwin/Benn plan for indicative votes.   

Why does this matter?

Because the Letwin/Benn plan gives precedence to motions backed by at least 25 MPs – including, crucially, five from five different parties.

It’s impossible to see how hardliners could get support for their own amendment from four other parties.

So the choices for indicative votes are likely to be for Britain remaining in the Customs Union, a new version of the Single Market, or a second referendum. There may be other options.

In other words, an indicative vote is unlikely in the extreme to be held on Brexiteer ambitions.

Under these circumstances, observers say it would be best to grab what’s on offer now.

If not, the likelihood is a long extension with Parliament dictating negotiations.

It’s hard to see how any Prime Minister or Cabinet colleague would want to be in contempt of Parliament.


George Pascoe-Watson is a partner at Portland Communications and former political editor at The Sun.

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