Delayers, Leavers and Remainers lie in wait as Brexit battle is rejoined in Westminster

As a series of crucial Brexit votes looms, MPs will attempt to challenge Theresa May’s proposals

Just weeks after seeing her Brexit deal suffer a humiliating defeat and surviving attempts to topple both her leadership and her government, Theresa May will face a fresh round of parliamentary ambushes when MPs hold a series of Brexit votes this week.

A simple motion setting out the government’s next steps on Brexit will be put to parliament on Tuesday. With just two months to go until Brexit day, however, a series of MPs from different parties are planning to hijack the event and force the prime minister to change course.

Brexiters want May to make another attempt to renegotiate her deal with Brussels. Cross-party groups of MPs want to kill off the prospect of no deal. Attempts by cabinet ministers and whips to persuade their colleagues to step back from the breach are failing. Huge power lies with John Bercow, the speaker, who can choose which plans are put to a vote.

Philip Hammond, the chancellor, has said some MPs want to turn the confrontation into High Noon – a reference to the classic 1950s western, in which Gary Cooper’s sheriff faces a final shootout with a gang of infamous outlaws. Such is the division and bitterness in parliament that another senior MP has a less flattering comparison. “At the moment, it’s more like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” he said.

So what are the plots and ambushes that await Theresa May this week?

Delaying Brexit

Key players Yvette Cooper, Nick Boles.

This plan has attracted broad support because it concentrates on one of the few things there is a majority for among MPs – avoiding a no-deal Brexit. The Cooper-Boles amendment gives parliament the power to order May to ask for Brexit to be delayed for a set amount of time, should no agreement be reached by the end of February. It would delay the Brexit cliff edge, but not deal with how to remove it entirely. A similar cross-party amendment, which does not bind the hands of the government, has also been tabled.

Chances of success? Very good, though the concerns of a minority of Labour MPs who do not wish to be seen to delay Brexit mean that it is not a certainty – and the plan could get torpedoed in the Lords at a later stage.

Power to parliament

Key player Dominic Grieve.

A radical proposal that would give much more control to parliament –giving MPs control of the parliamentary timetable for several days to find a Brexit solution, with backbenchers handed opportunities to submit ideas and hold votes.

While there has been a lot of focus on the Cooper-Boles amendment, this is the plan that has second-referendum supporters excited – they think it gives them the time and scope to make it happen.

Chances of success? Probably too revolutionary to attract enough support from Tories.

Labour ambush

Key players Jeremy Corbyn, Keir Starmer.

This calls on parliament to look at alternatives to a no-deal Brexit, including Labour’s preferred soft Brexit deal and a second referendum. However, this plan is more about holding together the party’s fragile policy than resolving the impasse.

The amendment does not spell out the specifics of an alternative Brexit deal and does not state whether an option to remain in the EU should be included in any second referendum. Labour MPs backing another public vote have already submitted “amendments to the amendment” to make a stronger case for it.

Chances of success? No chance.

Brexit options

Key player Hilary Benn.

Under this plan, the House of Commons would be turned into a Brexit shooting gallery, with all the various outcomes put to a vote to see if any can command a majority. There’s just one problem – what if they are all shot down? The idea of so-called indicative votes has been popular among Remain cabinet ministers for a while, though some supporters are now more focused on ruling out a no-deal Brexit.

Chances of success? Broad support, but such indicative votes would not tie the government’s hands.

Ditching the backstop

Key players Andrew Murrison, Sir Graham Brady.

Senior Tory Brexiters in the cabinet have been calling for May to take a tougher line with Brussels. Various amendments this week – one from Murrison and another from influential backbencher Brady – try to do just that. They essentially state that MPs back May’s deal apart from the “Irish backstop” provision, which would stop the UK signing its own trade deals if it were ever to come into effect. The idea is to demonstrate to Brussels that such a renegotiated deal would pass.

Chances of success? Should the Democratic Unionist party and Tory Eurosceptics row behind the amendment, it could pass – but there is little evidence the EU would consider such a renegotiation.

No 10 counter-attack

Key players Theresa May, Julian Smith.

It is possible – some cabinet ministers think likely – that the government will submit its own amendment, stating that May’s deal should be backed subject to further reassurances over the backstop.

Talks have been going on with the DUP, which opposes the backstop, over what would be acceptable.

Chances of success? It’s a tall order to win support from hardline Brexiters for anything that has a realistic chance of being accepted by Brussels. Downing Street denies that any such amendment is planned.

Fight another day

Key players Philip Hammond, David Lidington.

A faction of Remainers in the cabinet believe that this week should not be the point at which those who oppose a no-deal Brexit make a stand. They would like to see MPs wait until May comes back for a second attempt at pushing through her proposed EU withdrawal agreement. That may not be too far away.

Chances of success? There are too many MPs who are opposed to a no-deal Brexit and want to take action this week. They will ignore warnings to wait.


Michael Savage

The GuardianTramp

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