Brexit day (again), the immigration bill, proxy voting and lobbying the NEC

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Another big day for Brexit. MPs will vote on various amendments to the government’s Brexit plan tonight, with the focus largely on changes put forward by Labour backbencher Yvette Cooper and Tory backbench committee chair Graham Brady. Labour’s support for Cooper will only be confirmed after the shadow cabinet meeting this morning (set to be a tense discussion, with Jon Trickett and others ready to raise concerns). Even with frontbench approval, her Brexit-delaying proposal might not squeak through, as the opposition of some Labour MPs could outweigh the number of Tory rebels. More detail on that here.

Meanwhile, the Brady amendment got Theresa May’s backing yesterday, but Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Brexiteer group is still opposed. Instead, he has teamed up with Tory Remainers to devise a Plan C – dubbed the Malthouse Compromise – that replaces the backstop with a ‘no-deal deal’. Right…

Away from Brexit amendments that haven’t even been selected yet and alternatives that have zero chance of securing EU approval, the attentions of Labour’s grassroots are on the Immigration Bill confusion seen yesterday. When at lunchtime whips changed the three-line whip against the government legislation’s second reading to a one-line whip for abstention, the backlash came quickly and forcefully.

MPs, commentators and activists – and not just those who rail against everything the leadership does – expressed their opposition to the move, while the Labour frontbench employed arguments not dissimilar to those used in the infamous 2015 welfare bill row. After strong views were aired during the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting, the whip was changed again to one-line against (i.e. non-binding). Momentum activist Sabrina Huck writes for LabourListtoday on lessons the left should learn from the chaos.

Although the government’s immigration bill passed its second reading with a comfortable majority, a piece of proud history was also made in the chamber last night. After 10pm, ironically, MPs unanimously agreed to change Commons rules and allow proxy voting for those on parental leave in a one-year trial scheme. Tulip Siddiq, formerly my MP and boss, will become the first to cast a proxy vote (via colleague Vicky Foxcroft) in the Brexit votes today. At an agonising pace, parliament will slowly enter the 21st century.

Finally, Labour’s national executive committee has its regular meeting today. As reported on LabourList last week and previously, hundreds of local parties and thousands of members have been passing motions and petitioning the ruling body in favour of another EU referendum over the last few months. There have been calls from pro-EU groups and activists for an emergency conference on Labour’s Brexit policy, à la 1975, but concerns about timing has led that to be overtaken by a demand for an online poll of members.

The recommendation of a poll was recently made by the national policy forum’s international policy commission (a.k.a. the NPF’s IPC… obviously), and advocates point out that Corbyn did consult members in this way on Syria in 2015. There will be a lobby outside party HQ this morning, where NEC members will be greeted with leaflets and banners instructing them to “consult the members – referendum, remain and reform”. The Brexit fun never stops.

Sienna @siennamarla

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