Ahead of the latest amendable neutral Brexit motion coming to the Commons on Thursday, Labour has tabled its official amendment. The proposal aims to “stop the government from running down the clock” by giving it a deadline: pass a deal by February 26th, or hold another meaningful vote. Or let parliament take control of the process. This would disrupt their plan to leave the next proper vote on Theresa May’s deal until the last week of March, just days before the exit date.
We suspected this to be the Prime Minister’s strategy for some time, and it was all but confirmed in the chamber yesterday. May revealed that if there is insufficient time to pass the withdrawal bill itself (remember it’s not just the meaningful vote that must pass, but actual legislation too), it will be fast-tracked through parliament against the 21-day CRAG rule (more on that here).
But further proof is now provided in the shape of the big scoop everyone in Westminster is talking about: ITV’s Angus Walker overheard negotiator Olly Robbins spill the beans on the PM’s strategy in a Paris bar last night. According to the eavesdrop, MPs will be given a choice in March – back May’s deal or significantly delay Brexit. This would put Leave-seat representatives, not wanting to appear to frustrate Brexit, in a tricky position. Also significant in the Robbins leak are his comments on the backstop, which he says was intended as a “bridge” rather than a “safety net”. It suggests that May could easily have pitched a much softer future relationship, closer to Labour’s alternative Brexit.
These tactics will appall MPs from all sides, yet Labour’s amendment is unlikely to pass this week. The real action is widely expected to be not on Valentine’s Day, but at the end of the month. Keir Starmer confirmed this morning that Labour will support Yvette Cooper’s move then, which will again see her table an amendment to make parliamentary time for a bill. This bill – different to the last one and already attracting broader support – would give the PM a mid-March deadline to get her deal approved. If that is not met, May would be forced to seek approval for ‘no deal’ (which she wouldn’t get) or delay Brexit.
At this point, Corbyn’s critics will no doubt claim, as usual, that Yvette Cooper looks more like the leader of the opposition than he does. Her efforts are certainly admired for good reason, but bear in mind that it is obviously easier for a backbencher to gain cross-party support than a party leader. (Just as May has to rely on backbenchers to table helpful amendments.) Jeremy Corbyn isn’t there to make friends with Tories, as Labour’s latest party political broadcast will show tonight.
The new film, not yet released but previewed on LabourList, will directly link Conservative austerity to 120,000 excess deaths. It’s a hard-hitting look at how the NHS has been affected by their spending decisions, and a reminder to all those on the left who admire Anna Soubry for her anti-Brexit views that such Tory MPs nonetheless voted through these disastrous policies.
I’m following the lead of Olly Robbins and taking a trip to Paris today, so I’ll be leaving you in the safe hands of Left Foot Forward reporter Joe and editor Josiah for the rest of the week. With the release of the new broadcast, PMQs and a fresh round of Brexit amendment votes, there’s lots to look forward to…
Sienna @siennamarlaSign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.