UK Politics: Not the last chance to prevent no-deal – Parliament will this evening vote on a series of amendments to a motion on Brexit, the most crucial of which will be to require the government to seek an extension to the EU exit date (29 March). This would not in itself prevent a no-deal Brexit, but it would reduce the risk of it, and would give more time for parliament to come to a consensus on how to proceed, given its rejection of PM May’s deal. While the amendment is likely to pass – with most of the opposition and a number of Conservative Party MPs coming out in favour of it – the vote could well be a close one. Meanwhile, the opposition leadership is proposing that any extension be as short as possible, perhaps just three months – although the length of any extension would subject to future debate.
There will also be a vote on an amendment to request PM May to renegotiate the controversial backstop arrangement of the withdrawal agreement. Even if this amendment passes, this looks like a nonstarter, with the EU consistently firm in its opposition to any changes to the backstop. Regardless of the PM’s success or failure in renegotiation, she has committed to come back to parliament and will table another amendable motion on 14 February at the latest, which will give MPs a further opportunity to shape the next steps and to force an Article 50/EU exit date extension.
No deal could still happen – but the risk would fall
While Parliament can direct the government to seek a delay to Brexit, there are ways that the government could frustrate that parliamentary process if it was really determined to pursue a no-deal Brexit, and of course a delay would also require the consent of the EU27 (in the absence of this, the nuclear option would be to revoke Article 50 altogether). As such, even with today’s, or a future amendment passing, there will still remain a risk of no deal. However, the passage of a delay amendment would reduce the risk substantially. While the situation remains remarkably fluid in British politics, we continue to think the most likely outcome is a softer Brexit than PM May’s deal, or potentially another referendum if that is not achievable. (Bill Diviney)