Parliament set to debate Brexit again - but then where will the debate take us?
PUBLISHED: 05:30 07 January 2019
MPs return to Parliament for the first time in 2019 this week - and on Wednesday they start the new debate on the Prime Minister's deal to pull Britain out of the EU.
A vote on the deal is due to be held next week – but the chances of the government winning the vote still look relatively slim.
The debate was, of course, pulled from the parliamentary timetable in early December once it was clear that the government would not be able to get a majority of MPs to back it.
This was followed by the Conservative Party’s confidence vote on the Prime Minister – a vote she won, but only by conceding that she would step down before the next General Election.
Before MPs returned to their constituencies for the Christmas break, there was a belief that the opposition to Mrs May’s deal among her Tory critics had reduced – but there were still enough hard-core Brexiteers to ensure her deal would be rejected.
And the Democratic Unionists from Northern Ireland remain unconvinced by the deal.
Suffolk MPs were all set to back Mrs May’s deal in December, and it is difficult to believe any have changed their minds – but in Essex the situation may have changed a bit. Sir Bernard Jenkin, Priti Patel and John Whittingdale all look set to retain their opposition – but government whips will be hoping that Will Quince and Giles Watling may be persuaded to support it.
But whatever our local MPs do, the expectation is that the deal will be defeated by a House of Commons where all the opposition parties are expected to vote against it.
So what happens then?
The default position appears to be that we leave the EU on March 29. That has already been passed into legislation with the triggering of Article 50. If no deal is agreed and nothing else is done to change things, Britain leaves the EU on that date with no deal.
The vast majority of MPs do not want the country to leave the EU without a deal – but whether any motion to delay the triggering of Article 50 could get through the House of Commons looks very open to question.
As it stands, the government (which has been making preparations for a no-deal Brexit) is opposed to delaying the withdrawal date – and would probably whip its MPs to vote against any opposition bid to delay the departure date.
How many of the ultra-remain Tory MPs would defy their whips on such an important vote is unclear – especially if it was seen as helping to trigger a possible general election.
The government as a whole does remain committed to delivering Brexit – although some senior ministers like Chancellor Phillip Hammond, Justice Secretary David Gauke and Employment Secretary Amber Rudd have expressed serious concerns about a no-deal departure.
Some might be prepared to resign from the government on a matter of principle like this. Whether they would be willing to vote against their party on such an important issue and possibly open the door to a General Election and a Labour victory is another matter. I’m not sure there will be the votes to delay Brexit.
It is, of course, possible that in the days after a narrow defeat on the Brexit deal that there could be a desperate attempt by the government to get minor changes to the deal – but time will be ticking away and whether the EU with its notoriously bureaucratic procedures would want to play ball is a different matter.
For all these reasons I see the most likely result of all these changes as the government heading out of the EU without a deal.
The preparations put in place will ease things slightly, but there will certainly be a summer of confusion and insecurity as people get used to the new reality. I’m not planning a foreign holiday this year (not even Brexit should prevent travel between England and Wales!).
Businesses which trade with Europe will face disruption and delay moving products across borders. Manufacturers might have to forget about their “just in time” production schemes for a time.
But I suspect that eventually issues like this might start to be sorted out. Single-issue trade agreements with the EU will start to come in and eventually a form of equilibrium will be reached.
Of course in a few years time once we’ve got a raft of these agreements and want to start looking at them again, a new generation of politicians might start thinking “wouldn’t it be easier to be inside the EU.” The whole thing might start again!