The Cooper plan is the main talk of Westminster. For those of you who’ve missed the detail, I’ll give a brief explainer… On Tuesday, MPs will vote on Yvette Cooper’s amendment to the government’s Brexit motion (if selected by the Speaker, as is very likely). If passed, that would make parliamentary time for her bill, which would be presented to the Commons a week later on 5th February- and swiftly put to a vote that same day. The bill gives the government until the end of February to get its act together, but offers parliament a backstop, if you will, in case a deal hasn’t been approved. MPs would then get a vote on whether to extend Article 50, thus avoiding a ‘no deal’ exit in March.
At the moment, the plan would see Brexit Day delayed from 29th March until 31st December. But it’s thought that the Labour frontbench wants that changed to 30th June/1st July, making it only a three-month extension. Keir Starmer’s appearance at the Fabian conference last week hinted this would be their preference. Asked whether the EU elections taking place this year would affect an extension, he said: “It’s a pretty open secret that the EU have at least discussed extending until 1st July.” The Shadow Brexit Secretary said much the same on Peston last night, and added that there’s “room for discussion” with Cooper on that point.
Even with that revision and the Labour leadership’s support, will it pass? Some MPs, including Remainers, aren’t convinced that a mere three-month delay is all that helpful. It’s just putting off the inevitable, kicking the can down the road, which both main party leaders are frequently accused of doing. But the aim is to strengthen the voice of parliamentarians during those months, and with extra time MPs have a better chance of getting their various alternatives through, whether it’s another referendum or a citizens’ assembly.
It isn’t plain sailing for the Cooper plan. Caroline Flint has confirmed she won’t back it, and she could be joined by like-minded Labour backbenchers representing Leave seats. Of course, it won’t be getting the support of Labour Leavers such as Kate Hoey and Graham Stringer. In fact, the two have penned a piece for LabourList today that criticises colleagues vying to secure another referendum and/or hand control of the process over to parliament. Quoting Hilary Benn and Chuka Umunna as having said Brexit was “for the people, not MPs to decide” and “a majority of one is sufficient”, Hoey and Stringer write: “Both Chuka and Hilary have now changed their tune.”
Hoey and Stringer argue that plans such as Cooper’s weaken the UK’s negotiating hand: “The EU has a long history of concluding deals at the eleventh hour. They will not do this if there is no defined end and we throw away our strongest card.” But it’s unlikely this will convince MPs who are desperate to avoid ‘no deal’. All eyes are on Labour’s ‘inbetweeners‘ and Remainer Tories.