Hardline Brexiteers threaten humiliating defeat for May

Tory chief whip in talks with backbenchers aiming to table motion ruling out backstop

A lorry carrying an effigy of Theresa May passes outside the Houses of Parliament, in Westminster. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

A lorry carrying an effigy of Theresa May passes outside the Houses of Parliament, in Westminster. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

 

Thursday’s Brexit debate promised to be plain sailing for Theresa May after she told MPs this week they would have another chance to vote on an amendable motion on February 27th.

Labour’s Yvette Cooper decided to wait until then to revive the most dangerous amendment for the prime minister, which would allow MPs to take control of the Brexit process.

But last night saw Conservative chief whip Julian Smith negotiating with hardline Brexiteer backbenchers who were threatening to inflict a humiliating defeat on the government. The motion looked innocuous, stating that the House “reiterates its support for the approach to leaving the EU expressed by this House on January 29th, 2019, and notes that discussions between the UK and the EU on the Northern Ireland backstop are ongoing”.

MPs on January 29th approved Graham Brady’s amendment offering support for May’s Brexit deal on condition that the Northern Ireland backstop be replaced by alternative arrangements to ensure that the Border remains open. But they also voted for a non-binding amendment tabled by Conservative Caroline Spelman and Labour’s Jack Dromey that opposed a no-deal Brexit.

Borderlands

A special investigation on Brexit & the Border Read More

Brexiteers suggest that the government’s motion implies that the House rules out a no-deal Brexit as well as backing the approach to Brexit outlined in the Brady amendment. They are right to be suspicious because the prime minister has already defined the Brady amendment downwards to allow for a change to the backstop rather than its replacement.

Overheard in a bar

Olly Robbins, the civil servant who leads the British negotiating team, was overheard in a Brussels hotel bar suggesting that the prime minister would wait until there were just days to go to the March 29th deadline before presenting MPs with a choice between her (tweaked) deal and a lengthy postponement of Brexit.

May’s visit to Brussels last week persuaded the EU side that she was determined to play the negotiations long, with the endgame pencilled in for the next scheduled meeting of the European Council on March 21st. That timetable suits the EU too, as the commission and member states wait to see how events at Westminster play out.

Even if May wins the vote on Thursday, any concession to the Brexiteers will reinforce the view among many on the EU side that she cannot sustain a stable majority for a Brexit deal based solely on Conservative and DUP votes. The EU is unwilling to reopen the withdrawal agreement to change the backstop but it is prepared to be more flexible if the prime minister shifts her red lines and embraces Labour’s proposal for permanent customs union membership and close alignment with the single market.

A defeat for the prime minister on Thursday would weaken her hand in Brussels and strengthen those on the EU side who are most patient and unyielding.

BREXIT: The Facts

Read them here
The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.