By Owen Bennett
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1) Theresa May Has Finally Picked A Side
Theresa May has been accused of reneging on a deal struck with MPs to avoid a game-changing Government defeat over Brexit.
After a last-gasp meeting with the Prime Minister before a crunch vote on Brexit on Tuesday, up to 17 Tory MPs agreed not to back a plan that could have seen Parliament take control of the Brexit negotiations if the Government failed to strike a deal.
May promised the would-be rebels the Government would put forward a new amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill that would beef-up the so-called ‘meaningful vote’ plan in exchange for their support.
That compromise amendment – set to be voted on in the Lords on Monday – was published on Thursday afternoon, and prompted an immediate backlash from Tory MPs who believe they have been betrayed.
Under the Government’s plan, MPs will only be able to debate the Prime Minister’s next move if no deal is struck or they vote down the deal, and would have no power to direct what should happen next.
Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General who has led the charge for Parliament to have a greater say in the Brexit negotiations, was reportedly angry at the amendment.
He told The Telegraph: “I thought these issues had been resolved hours ago, but at the last minute an element has been changed in a way that is unacceptable.”
May faces the prospect that the Lords could reject her amendment on Monday and back the one put forward by Grieve instead.
That would see the matter returned yet again to the Commons, where MPs will have another chance to defeat the Government.
It seemed that May had managed to diffuse a potential war in her party when she offered the concession on Tuesday.
The Government appeared to be on course for defeat when Phillip Lee resigned from his position as Justice Minister the morning of the vote in order to back the amendment.
The last-minute horse trading appeared to have worked when all Tory MPs – with the exception of Ken Clarke, Soubry and Lee – voted with the Government.
Yet Brexiteers, including Jacob Rees-Mogg put pressure on the Government not to agree to the main thrust of the Remainers argument that Parliament should be able to instruct the Government how to negotiate with Brussels.
Some Leavers were worried MPs would vote down the deal and then instruct the Government to keep the UK in the Single Market or customs union – or perhaps the EU entirely.
2) Labour Are At It As Well
Labour saw the Tories one Brexit resignation and raised them six.
Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Laura Smith stepped down ahead of a vote on Wednesday to vote against a Lords amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill that would see the Government negotiate for the UK to be a member of the European Economic Area (EEA).
Five other MPs– Ged Killen, Ellie Reeves, Tonia Antoniazzi, Anna McMorrin and Rosie Duffield – quit as junior shadow ministerial aides to vote for the plan.
The Labour line had been to abstain in the vote, but 90 MPs defied orders, with 75 voting for the EEA amendment, and 15 voting against.
The debate leading up to the vote exposed the divisions at the heart of the issue for many in the party. Caroline Flint spoke out against the amendment, as staying in the Single Market would mean the retention of freedom of movement.
Interestingly, she picked up on nuance frequently espoused by Wigan MP Lisa Nandy about why the Remain side’s argument around for immigration fell flat with voters in her areas like her Don Valley constituency.
“They are not against all migration, but they want a sense that we can turn the tap on and off when we choose to do so. They also want us to answer the questions: “Why hasn’t Britain got the workforce it needs, why has social mobility stopped, why do we train fewer doctors than Holland or Ireland, and why are these jobs dominated by those in the middle and upper classes so we don’t get a look in?”
Voters in seats like Flint’s and Nandy’s don’t see EU workers in the NHS as benefit, they see it as a way of the establishment dodging their responsibility to offer opportunities to all as they know they can fill any gaps with foreign staff.
Chuka Umunna, who backed the amendment, took a different view:
“Let us make no mistake: people in traditional Labour voting areas were saying exactly the same things about the Windrush generation, about south Asian immigration, and about the likes of my father from west Africa being the cause of our problems way back then, as they do now in respect of EU citizens. Curbing Commonwealth immigration then and ending EU free movement now did not and will not solve these problems, and we know it.”
3) Brussels Loves Marking Its Own Homework
David Davis met with Michel Barnier on Monday to discuss the UK’s proposed backstop plan for the Brexit negotiations.
It’s fair to say that, like many of these meetings, no progress was made.
The EU published its response to the UK’s proposal in fairly black and white terms over the course of 11 slides, concluding with “Key questions unanswered; Does not cover regulatory controls, leading to a hard border; Time-limited only, UK-wide.”
Other complaints include that there allowing the UK to implement its own trade deals during the backstop creates “uncertainty” over how the EU’s own agreements apply, and there are “risks of misalignment”.
In contrast, the EU summed up its own backstop as a “timely and workable solution”, which is obviously very fair-minded of them.
To help make things even clearer, the EU decided to provide actual illustrations about why its plan would work.
The graphic warned that in the case of a no deal there will be an “impact on North-South cooperation”, and border checks would be required at 208 road crossings.
4) There Must Be Method In The Madness
The Government is tearing itself apart, the opposition is simultaneously exploding and imploding, and there is no progress on the backstop plan.
That is hardly the best preparation for the next European Council summit, scheduled for June 28 and 29.
With this being the final summit before the October meeting – where the trade deal is supposed to be agreed – you would think the Government would want to get all its ducks in a row before hand.
In what must presumably be a cunning piece of psychological warfare to confuse Brussels, the Cabinet is holding its big meeting to decide what it wants from the negotiations after the June summit.
The entire Cabinet will be locked away in the Prime Minister’s country retreat of Chequers at the beginning of July – most likely Thursday 5 and Friday 6.
It is at this meeting the much-trailed White Paper on what the Government wants from Brexit will be agreed.
Or not – given past experiences.
Don’t Get Angry, Get Blogging…
At HuffPost we love a good blog, and here are the finest Brexit-penned entries from this week. Have a read, and if any of them provoke an urge in you to speak your brain, send a blog to [email protected] and you could find yourself in this very newsletter.
Robert Buckland on why ministers simply must have the right to make changes to our statute book as we leave the EU
Alison McGovern on how immigration strengthens Britain, but we must make a stronger argument to convince others
James McGrory on how a ‘people’s vote’ could prevent Britain being forced to accept a bad Brexit deal