Brexit D-Day looms for embattled British PM and truculent MPs
Series of parliamentary votes to take place on alternatives to May’s politically indigestible deal
Monday’s votes follow last week’s decision by EU leaders to extend Britain’s EU membership, which was due to end next Friday, until April 12th. File photograph: Getty Images
MPs will vote on Monday on whether to take control of the parliamentary timetable this week to stage a series of “indicative votes” on alternatives to Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
Chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond acknowledged on Sunday that if, as expected, MPs reject the deal for a third time, they will have to seek a cross-party majority for a different option.
“Parliament will have to come together around a proposition that can gather a majority and what I’m hearing in parliament at the moment is lots of different ideas from different factions, but that won’t solve the problem. Those backbench leaders of different groups have got to get themselves together in a room and decide what they can compromise on because if parliament won’t compromise we’ll end up at the end of this process no further forward than we were at the beginning of it,” he told Sky News.
But Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay described MPs’ attempt to take control of the parliamentary timetable as “constitutionally unprecedented” and a serious risk to Brexit. He suggested that, if parliament instructed the government to negotiate a softer Brexit including customs union or single market membership, there could be a general election.
“Ultimately at its logical conclusion the risk of a general election increases because you potentially have a situation where parliament is instructing the Executive to do something that is counter to what it was elected to do,” he said.
Monday’s votes follow last week’s decision by EU leaders to extend Britain’s EU membership, which was due to end next Friday, until April 12th. If Mrs May’s deal wins parliamentary approval this week, Brexit will be postponed until May 22nd to allow Westminster to pass necessary implementation legislation.
Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in London on Saturday demanding a second referendum. And five million people have signed a petition calling on parliament to cancel Brexit by revoking article 50.
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said his party would demand that any Brexit deal MPs approve must be put to a confirmatory referendum before it can be implemented.
“Well, the only deal there is on the table at the moment is the prime minister’s deal. We may get to another deal, but it’s still going to be put through by this prime minister, in this extraordinary times, and so the proposition as it were that any deal that this prime minister is going to get through parliament ought to be subject to a public vote is one that we support. And that’s why we said we’ll either lay our own amendment or we’ll support amendments to that end,” he told the BBC.
Mr Hammond said that revoking article 50 would undermine confidence in democracy and that leaving the EU would cause huge economic problems. But he said a second referendum was a proposition that deserved consideration by MPs along with other options.
“I am going to argue for the prime minister’s deal. But the most important thing for me is that we have a way forward which means we leave the European Union with a negotiated settlement, with the withdrawal agreement and then we can move on as a nation. And then I do believe we have a bright future in front of us, but only if we do this in a smooth and orderly way,” he told the BBC.
“I’m not sure there is a majority in parliament in support of a second referendum but it is a perfectly coherent proposition. Many people will be strongly opposed to it but it is a coherent proposition and it deserves to be considered along with the other proposals that you’ve got on the list.”