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MPs vote to take control of Brexit timetable

Vidya Ram London | Updated on March 26, 2019

British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a statement in the Parliament in London, Britain March 25, 2019.   -  REUTERS

To debate, participate in indicative votes on Wednesday; Theresa May warns of ‘slow-Brexit’

British MPs are set to debate and take part in a series of indicative votes on Wednesday to help chart a course that could command support in Parliament.

It came after the government suffered a major political defeat on Monday night, when MPs voted to wrest control of the Brexit timetable from the government on Wednesday, to hold the votes despite assurances from the government that it would be willing to hold a series of such votes itself. Three ministers resigned in order to be able to vote for the amendment.

The government meanwhile continues to struggle to rally MPs behind Prime Minister Theresa May’s controversial withdrawal deal. While some hardline Brexiteers — notably European Research Group chair Jacob Rees-Mogg — have indicated their willingness to support the deal if it means avoiding no Brexit at all, the Democratic Unionist Party and other Conservative MPs have held fast in their opposition. May on Monday acknowledged she didn’t have the majority in Parliament but warned that the alternatives included no Brexit at all or a “slow Brexit”.

Following another lengthy debate on Monday night, MPs voted by 329 to 302 in favour of an amendment to a motion — introduced by Conservative MP Oliver Letwin — to enable the series of unspecified votes to take place on Wednesday. The precise system that will be used — and what options are offered to MPs — will become clear on Wednesday itself, when a business of the House motion, and any associated amendments, are set to be put to MPs and debated between 2 pm and 3 pm UK time, and then voted on.

This will set the course of how these votes would take place and what the MPs will have to answer. The indicative votes could take place later that day. Striking the right note in the indicative votes will be crucial and tricky, to avoid any suggestion that the ordering of the questions compromised or predetermined the way that MPs answered the questions. A process along these lines has only ever been used by MPs once before — in 2003, to attempt to identify the best way to reform the House of Lords. However, at that time, it failed to provide clarity as MPs rejected all the options before them.

Even if MPs were able to agree to a particular route ahead in the indicative votes, there is no guarantee that the government will abide by them. “I cannot commit the government to delivering the outcome of any votes held by the House, but I do commit to engaging constructively with the process,” May told MPs on Monday ahead of the vote on the Letwin amendment.

Dwindling options

The government is continuing to attempt to rally support behind the withdrawal deal despite clear indications from many, including the DUP, that they would not change their mind. However, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a vocal critic of the Prime Minister, indicated in a podcast interview on the website Conservative Home that he could be persuaded to back the beleaguered Withdrawal Agreement as the options facing the UK dwindled. May on Monday appeared to rule out a no-deal Brexit, and instead pointed to other options including a “slow Brexit”, which would require the UK to take part in European Parliamentary elections on May 23.

The EU last week agreed to delay Brexit beyond March 29 if no withdrawal deal is agreed this week. The UK will have till April 12 to come up with alternative routes forward. If they are accepted then the UK will leave the EU on May 22.

Letwin, setting out his amendment on Monday, had told the House that compromise would be needed if MPs were to be able to find a road ahead. “We need not just a majority for something but a majority for something that will continue to persist as the various stages have to be carried through. That must be our aim,” he said.

While Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn hailed Parliament for “taking control” and called on the government to take the process seriously, the government warned that the vote upended “the balance between our democratic institutions and sets a dangerous, unpredictable precedent for the future.”

However, some EU politicians welcomed the actions taken by Parliament. Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said Parliament taking control was an “opportunity to build a cross-party cooperation leading to an enhanced political declaration and close future relationship.”

 

 

Published on March 26, 2019

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