Conservative and Labour MPs have banded together in a bid to prevent a no deal Brexit, after the Brexit debate begins again in Parliament after the Christmas break.
With less than 80 days to go until the official leaving date of 29 March, Remain MPs have been tabling and passing amendments aiming to make it harder for the UK to exit the European Union without an agreement.
On Tuesday (8 January), the government was defeated on its finance bill in favour of an amendment put forward by Labour MP Yvette Cooper, which would limit some of the government’s tax administration powers were a no deal to go through without a parliamentary vote.
The amendment relates to a clause in the finance bill designed to give the government powers to keep tax laws working smoothly in the event of a no deal Brexit. The amendment means that this clause would now only come into effect in the event of a Brexit deal being agreed, a decision being made to extend Article 50 or the House of Commons voting explicitly for a no deal Brexit.
The amendment was passed with a seven-vote majority (303 to 296), with 20 Tory politicians defying party whips to vote in favour of the proposal, including a number of former ministers such as Justine Greening and Sir Oliver Letwin.
In essence, while the amendment will not prevent a no deal – the government has said that it would merely be an “inconvenience” – it does demonstrate the extent of the opposition to a no deal Brexit in the House of Commons. In addition, the triple-lock approach of Brexit deal, Article 50 extension and a Commons-approved no deal could be applied to upcoming bills in order to apply the brakes on a no deal Brexit.
The government faced a further setback today (Wednesday 9 January) when MPs debated on an amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Act, which sets out what will happen if the Brexit deal is defeated at the ‘meaningful vote’ in Parliament next week, set for Tuesday 15 January after being postponed in December.
The amendment, proposed by Conservative MP for Beaconsfield Dominic Grieve, was passed by 308 votes to 297, an even higher majority than yesterday’s amendment. It requires Theresa May to bring a new plan for Brexit to the table within three days if her original plan is defeated. Under the previous ruling, government had 21 days to return to Parliament if its deal is voted down. However, there was fear from some MPs that this will allow ministers to “[run] down the clock” towards a no deal Brexit.
A previous amendment by Grieve states that any ‘Plan B’ produced following a defeat will then be open to amends by Parliament, potentially making the future of Brexit much more malleable.
Green MP Caroline Lucas, who supported both Cooper and Grieve’s amendments, highlighted on Twitter that the votes sent a message to government that there is a majority in Parliament against a no deal Brexit. She tweeted: ‘Parliament has voted to take back control & force PM to come back with a Plan B within 3 days of MPs rejecting her #Brexit deal.
‘Ministers know they'll lose this fight. They'd better start drafting that request to extend Article 50.’