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Division, Derision, Diversions, & Delay

As promised, last week was a big one for Brexit. In my last column, I outlined what was planned, in this one I’ll recount what actually happened. The first of three important votes this week was on Tuesday, parliament was set to vote on May’s proposed Brexit deal…again. After the last time MPs voted it down, she was sent off to the EU to make changes to the Irish backstop element to ensure that the UK would not end up in a strange limbo between being fully out and partly in. By Monday there was no sign of any changes and MPs prepared to vote down exactly the same deal they had voted down in January…but then, at the very last moment, around 11pm on Monday evening, May announced she’d done it. The EU had agreed to some changes.

Illustration by Rhiannon Powell

This left many MPs with sleepless nights, desperately trying to make sense of the new deal before the vote in less than 24 hours’ time. As Tuesday dawned it became increasingly clear that all May had achieved in two months of negotiations was vague assurances from the EU that the Backstop scenario wouldn’t last forever and that it would probably come to an end at some point in the next five years…or so… -ish. (If you’re wondering what exactly the Irish Backstop is, then I’d recommend popping over to my column from the 3rdFeb or alternatively, BBC News have a very useful Brexit jargon buster that explains all.) So, with this established, it was easy to see the way the vote would go. As predicted the deal was rejected…again. Which means May and her government lost a major parliamentary vote…again. The final result, 242 in favour of the deal, 391 against. This triggered part two of the plan for this week. The vote on no-deal.

As I made clear in my last column, in my opinion, no-deal is very bad, so this vote was rather important. May proposed a vote on whether, now her deal had been rejected again, parliament wanted to leave the EU on the 29thof March with no deal. Although some MPs (predominantly the mad ones) are in favour of this option, they are in the minority, so the vote was expected to go against no-deal. But then something happened that took the government and the rest of us by surprise. An amendment to the vote had been tabled, this would alter the question to, if rejected, rule out leaving the EU with no deal not just at the end of March but EVER. This was radical, even amongst those MPs that wanted to avoid no-deal, many thought it would be good to have the option on the table if there were further negotiations. The amendment was not expected to pass. However, mainly due to a number of rebel Conservative MPs, parliament voted in favour of the amendment – essentially making the final vote void as it was obvious there was a majority for never leaving with no deal. (Lots of lovely double negatives there.) It was still pretty down to the wire though, with the final numbers coming in as 312/308. Although not legally binding on the Government, they are now morally obligated to follow Parliament’s wishes.

Illustration by Rhiannon Powell

But both these votes only tell us what Parliament doesn’t want from Brexit – May’s Deal and No Deal – so what do they want? Well, vote three of the week was intended to answer this. On Thursday, MPs were asked if they wanted the PM to go back to the EU and ask for a delay to Brexit, meaning we would not leave on the 29thMarch. A majority of 211 MPs said they would and so that is where we are. In the next few weeks, May will go back to the EU…again and ask for more time. If things go May’s way, which given her track record seems unlikely, to say the least, then there will only be a short ‘technical’ delay of a few weeks while she makes further changes to her deal and puts it to Parliament AGAIN! Another option is that Brexit could be pushed back to the end of June (just in time to ruin your summer holiday plans), but this would mean the UK would have to take part in the EU elections in May (the month not the beleaguered PM) even though we’re on our way out. Another possibility is the EU will only allow an extension in the form of another two-year block, in which time there will likely be a general election here and, possibly, a second referendum as the original one would then be five years old, more than enough time to justify going to the people once again many argue.

In short, we’re not shot of Brexit yet and there’s a bloody long way to go.

Until next week, mind how you go…

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