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AFTER LOSING A vote in parliament on Monday, Theresa May’s hopes to get her withdrawal agreement somehow passed by the House of Commons suffered another blow.

In a Tory meeting this afternoon, she tried to do this by offering to quit if MPs agreed to pass her deal on Friday, saying that ”she would not remain in post for the next phase of the negotiations,” according to one MP at the meeting.

She made the offer an hour before MPs were due to debate a series of options as to how the UK should progress with Brexit – including entering a customs’ union, crashing out without a deal or holding a second referendum.

Join us throughout the day as we cover all the goings on in Westminster as MPs “take control” of the Brexit process.

So, just to set the scene.

On Monday, MPs voted to give themselves greater control of the Brexit process, as it enters its potential endgame.

Indicative votes differ from Theresa May’s previous meaningful votes on Brexit. 

In those cases, there were two options on the table – to accept or reject the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement.

This time there’ll be plenty of options for MPs to decide upon.

While Prime Minister May is not obliged to follow the will of parliament today, the pressure on her to do so if MPs finally agree on something will be intense.

MPs will today have the chance to vote on various options such as revoking Article 50 and cancelling Brexit, holding another referendum, a deal including a customs union and single market membership or leaving the European Union without a deal.

Of course, there remains the possibility that there won’t be a majority for any one option.

May herself has said she is “sceptical” about the process and that similar efforts in the past “produced contradictory outcomes or no outcomes at all”.

Time is of the essence though, with the UK running out of time to decide on what kind of Brexit it wants, whether it wants to delay it or ditch it altogether.

At last week’s European summit, EU leaders agreed to delay the day of Britain’s departure from the bloc by three weeks until 12 April, while Prime Minister Theresa May struggles to ratify her withdrawal agreement.

May still believes she has a chance of getting her withdrawal agreement through – at the third time of asking – with a softening in stance from hardened Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg a positive for the Prime Minister.

Despite that, the DUP has so far remained steadfast in its opposition to May’s deal. 

The outcome of today’s votes could potentially have a huge say in what happens over the coming weeks. 

Earlier today, European Council President Donald Tusk told the European Parliament that its members “should be open if the UK wishes to rethink its British strategy”.

“Then there were voices saying it would be inconvenient or harmful to some of you [if UK takes part in European elections]. Let me be clear – such thinking is unacceptable,” Tusk said.

You cannot betray the 6 million people who signed the petition to revoke Article 50, the 1 million who marched for a people’s vote or the increasing majority of people who want to remain in the European Union.
They may feel they are not sufficiently represented by the UK parliament. But they must feel they are represented by you in this chamber because they are Europeans. 

Before the debate, we had Prime Minister’s Questions with May from midday.

On the important issue of the indicative votes later today, she said… a whole load of nothing.

Trading barbs with Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and the Scottish National Party’s Ian Blackford, May repeated the mantra that her deal would deliver on the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum.

One notable point, however, was put to her by Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen.

He said most of his constituents voted for Brexit, and would “never trust the Prime Minister again” after she reneged on her promise for the UK to leave the EU on the original set date of 29 March. 

The DUP’s refusal to back May’s withdrawal deal is being seen as a major stumbling block to the prime minister’s hopes.

They may only have 10 votes, but reports from around Westminster suggest that if the DUP are for turning, then Brexiteer Tories could follow suit.

In Strasbourg today, DUP MEP Diane Dodds laid out why the withdrawal agreement – including the Irish backstop – is so unpalatable.

She told MEPs that the withdrawal agreement would see Northern Ireland leave the EU on different terms to the rest of the UK under the backstop

“It is not a price, as unionists, we are willing to pay,” she said.

It appears that key to swaying the Conservative Brexiteers to support May is that she set out a timeline for when she’ll resign.

If she is going to be out the door soon, this latest poll of Tory voters is grim reading for Boris Johnson, as he’s the most unpopular alternative to the prime minister.

Not sure if there’s a better way of summing up – in just 18 seconds – the chaos that’s engulfed Westminster in recent months over Brexit than this.

Theresa May was asked during PMQs about the petition that now almost 6 million signatures calling for Article 50 to be revoked. 

It was claimed that there was the potential for “fraudulent activity” to enable people not in the UK to sign the petition.

May backed the work of the Petitions Committee, and this was backed up by Labour MP Helen Jones who told the House that 96% of its signatures are from the UK. 

Time has been set aside for MPs to debate the petition next Monday

Here’s the expected indicative votes timeline, released by the House of Commons.

Worth noting that the debate is likely to begin well before 3pm.

Interesting one here, as Speaker John Bercow addresses a point of order related to demonstrators and placards outside Westminster.

“[There is a] proactive policing approach on a scale to allow people go about their daily business,” the speaker says. 

“I can’t be the poster policeman”.

The political journalists in Westminster have reacted quite strongly to one small part of Prime Minister’s questions – when SNP’s Ian Blackford asked May when and if she’d resign.

She deflected rather than give a straight answer.

There are 16 potential options that’ll be put to an indicative vote today, but MPs won’t get to vote on them all.

Speaker John Bercow will select around six of them to be debated and put to a vote.

Here they are, courtesy of Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby.

rigby 1

rigby 2

rigby 3

Going closer to home now, and Leo Varadkar has been speaking Brexit in the Dáil this afternoon.

He said there is commentary in Westminster that he somehow spoke about special arrangements for the North in a no-deal, and that there would be no need for a backstop solution.

The Taoiseach that “let there be no doubt in Westminster” that what he means when he speaks about special arrangements is treating the North differently than the rest of UK. He said that has been agreed by all sides.

Varadkar added that treating Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit is “the British government’s proposal”. More on that here

Theresa May has been opposed to indicative votes from the start, because having them today has derailed plans to bring forward her withdrawal agreement a third time. 

The Guardian’s Heather Stewart is reporting that the government is whipping against a business motion for this afternoon’s indicative votes – which would prevent indicative votes carrying on again into Monday.

May, it seems, is trying another measure to try to put a stop to the indicative votes process.

Could this be over before it began?

Well now. Labour is backing a second referendum – but only if it isn’t in government.

If it gets into power it says it will deliver a “better Brexit”, Bloomberg’s Robert Hutton reports.

Theresa May has said that while she acknowledges the indicative votes are taking place, she will not necessarily accept any plan that may be agreed upon in the process.

Conservative MP James Cartlidge has confirmed MPs will be given a free vote on the indicative ballots, with members of the Cabinet abstaining.

We actually haven’t started the debate just yet, as MPs are still debating the business motion to hold the debate that they voted on Monday to hold today.

Go figure.

Sir Oliver Letwin MP – who first proposed the motion for MPs to have indicative votes on the course of Brexit – is defending the motion.

Others, such as Jacob Rees Mogg think it should be left to the government. He’s citing 16th century precedence as to why.

Sky reporter Aubrey Allegretti has tweeted a photo of the message sent to Tories giving them a free vote in the indicative ballots later.

Tories are getting a free vote, but are Labour too?

Not so, according to the Guardian’s Jessica Elgot.

Labour MPs are being whipped to vote on a customs union, Labour’s Brexit plan and a second referendum.

Erstwhile UKIP leader Nigel Farage is an elected Member of the European Parliament, lest we forget.

So is Guy Verhofstadt, who is the Brexit coordinator for the European Parliament.

The pair had a curious exchange in the parliament earlier where the former compared Farage to Field Marshal Haig in Blackadder Goes Forth.

Farage retorted that “it was Field Marshal Haig who saved Ypres”, and that Haig should be a hero to Verhofstadt.

Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder remarks of Haig after he issues another order for men to go above the trenches into die in no man’s land: “Field Marshal Haig is about to make yet another gargantuan effort to move his drinks cabinet six inches close to Berlin.”

In the below clip, we can see Haig sweeping up model soldiers with a dustpan and brush.

Make of all this what you will…

Source: mrjsrjsrjsr/YouTube

Back home again, and Leo Varadkar is saying that there’s no “secret plan” for how Ireland would deal with a hard border on the island.

He also called it a “conspiracy theory”.

Will May listen to the indicative votes if there is some kind of consensus today? That appears unlikely, but don’t tell Conservative MP Steve Brine that. 

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And they are in. Speaker John Bercow has decided what MPs will be vote on later. They will have eight ‘indicative votes’: 

  1. On a ‘no-deal’ Brexit
  2. On entering a Common Market 2.0 – it proposes membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and European Economic Area (EEA), allowing for participation in the single market and customs’ arrangements 
  3. On joining EFTA and EEA – as above but staying out of a customs union
  4. On creating a Customs Union – to get a trade agreement which includes a customs union with the EU 
  5. On Labour’s plan – which includes a close economic relationship involving a customs union and close alignment with the single market
  6. On revoking Article 50 if there is still the possibility of no deal two days out from leave date
  7. On a confirmatory public vote  – on any deal passed by parliament
  8. On a no deal 

The Conservative Party members will have free votes on all the possible alternatives.

Bercow also through another possible spanner in the works.

After announcing which indicative votes he was choosing today, he said that for Theresa May to be able to hold a third Meaningful Vote, there must be a substantial change. (Remember his earlier ruling that the government can’t keep bringing the same vote on the same thing to the House. He cited precedent dating back to 1604.)

Well, he’s still adamant. 

He said for a vote to be allowed – May wants to hold it on Thursday or Friday – the motion will have to have changed ‘substantially’. 

He also said he would not allow the government to find a loophole, such as a one-off rule change. 

Tmay Source: House of Commons

Theresa May has told Tory MPs that she would step down before the “next phase” of Brexit negotiations, without giving further details on when that might be, an MP at the meeting told reporters.

May said “she would not remain in post for the next phase of the negotiations,” James Cartlidge said as he left the meeting in parliament.

May will not ‘stand in the way’ of calls for new leadership

According to Sky News, these are Theresa May’s exact words (as conveyed to them by Downing St):

“I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations – and I won’t stand in the way of that.

“I know some people are worried that if you vote for the Withdrawal Agreement, I will take that as a mandate to rush on into phase two without the debate we need to have. I won’t – I hear what you are saying…

“I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party.

“I ask everyone in this room to back the deal so we can complete our historic duty – to deliver on the decision of the British people and leave the European Union with a smooth and orderly exit.”

Here’s the next few steps, if May’s deal does pass…

 

A number of political correspondents are now reporting that Boris will back May’s deal as a result of her 1922 Committee pledge to resign…

MPs have finished voting, the suspension period where they started voting and ended.

The counting is now underway, which could go on until 8.30pm or 10pm…

Some interesting poll results from Sky News

Just 26% think MPs should accept May’s deal, while 40% think there should be a second referendum. Very confused results.

A massive majority to approve the extension offered by the European Union.

441 in favour, and just 105 against. 

House of C

The results are in: 

  • Leave without a deal: Ayes 160, Noes 400 
  • Common Market 2.0: Ayes 188, Noes 283
  • EFTA and EEA: Ayes 65, Noes 377
  • Customs Union: Ayes 264, Noes 272
  • Labour’s alternative plan: Ayes 237, Noes 307
  • Revoking Article 50: Ayes 184, Noes 293
  • Confirmatory public vote: Ayes 268, Noes 295
  • Contingent preferential arrangements: Ayes 139, Noes 422

About the author:

Sean Murray

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