A Rose by any other name

Theresa May offers her battered Brexit deal to MPs again - so what's different?

The Grieve and Cooper amendments are the most likely to gain the support of the House of Commons – so what are they?

Prime Minister's Questions PA Wire / PA Images PA Wire / PA Images / PA Images

AFTER A HISTORIC defeat for her Brexit deal, British Prime Minister Theresa May is putting her Withdrawal Agreement back before the House of Commons this Tuesday.

A record-breaking 230 MPs voted against the government last week, and May was given just three days to come up with her Plan B. On Monday this week, she announced that her Plan B was to hold another vote on slight amendments to Plan A (a very Brexit means Brexit move).

The strictest opposition from the House of Commons seems to be due to the backstop.

Many pro-Brexit and some pro-Remain MPs have expressed concern about whether the backstop would threaten Northern Ireland’s status within the United Kingdom; others have said that the backstop needs to be time-limited, which EU leaders have said would make the backstop entirely pointless.

With time running out before the 29 March, which is when the UK must legally leave the European Union, the UK government, the EU and Ireland are scrambling for solutions.

Tensions are high, as the Irish government is pressured to detail its plans for a border in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and the leaders of the 27 EU member states are pushed for their opinion on whether the backstop needs to be altered.

Among the solutions being offered from the UK side, are amendments to the deal. It’s thought that if the House of Commons passes an amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement, that this would put pressure on the EU to agree to those terms to facilitate an orderly EU-UK divorce.

So what are the Grieve and Cooper amendments?

EU referendum bill debate PA Archive / PA Images PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

Former Conservative government lawyer Dominic Grieve has introduced a cross-party amendment that would force the government to allow six days throughout February and March for MPs to debate and vote on Brexit options.

The latest of the dates would be 26 March, just three days before Britain leaves the EU.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper has proposed an amendment to force the government to make time in the Commons to debate her own bill preventing a no-deal Brexit.

Under this legislation, if there is no Brexit deal by 26 February, the government must delay Britain’s departure from the bloc until 31 December 2019.

This has the support of some former ministers in May’s Conservative party. The only thing that can force an unwilling government to act is legislation – which is why Cooper has introduced her own bill. However, she might struggle to get this through parliament in time.

Other amendments

An amendment introduced by opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn demands parliamentary time to debate and vote on options to avoid a “no deal” Brexit.

These include negotiating a new UK-EU customs union and a “strong relationship” with the EU’s single market, and holding a second referendum.

Senior Labour MP Hilary Benn has proposed an amendment demanding the government hold a series of votes designed to test what the Commons wants.

These would include votes on leaving the EU with no deal, holding a second referendum or renegotiating with Brussels.

‘Hijacking’ Brexit

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox accused MPs of trying to “hijack Brexit” and defy the 2016 vote to leave the European Union.

But Corbyn said the government has no new ideas and “MPs must now act to break the deadlock”.

Benn added: “MPs doing their job are not plotters, they are trying to sort out the mess the prime minister has created.”

Not all amendments will be put to a vote – the selection will be made on the morning of 29 January by Commons Speaker John Bercow.

Bercow has been criticised previously after he was accused of working against the government after he allowed MPs to submit amendments to motions that have previously been considered unamendable.

What’s likely to pass?

Any that are chosen would need support from all sides – both Grieve’s and Cooper’s amendments are seen as the most likely to win support. It is unlikely that Corbyn’s plan would command the support of any Conservative MPs.

Technically, any amendments agreed would not be legally binding, but it would be politically hard for the prime minister to ignore them.

“It’s an opportunity for the House of Commons to express its political will,” Theresa May’s spokesman said.

This would be particularly true if a significant number of Conservative MPs backed any amendment.

The government is under pressure to allow a free vote by its MPs, with reports that failure to do so could result in a slew of ministerial resignations.

This week, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd, who’s also the former Home Secretary, warned May that there could be a slew of resignations if MPs weren’t given a free vote. Rudd also dodged questions over her own resignation if May’s Brexit deal fails to pass through the House for a second time.

- with reporting from © AFP 2019.

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