Today Parliament will debate a motion to extend Article 50 along with a number of amendments which seek to go beyond the Prime Minister’s commitment to seek an extension if her deal is passed in a further repeat of the ‘meaningful’ vote early next week. The first amendment to be debated allows the House to vote for a new referendum on whether the UK should accept a deal or remain in the EU. If passed, this would lead to all other amendments falling – however, it’s generally expected that the amendment would fail even if fully supported by the Opposition.
The second amendment, tabled by Hilary Benn. is probably the most critical business of the day and would allow backbenchers to take control of the business of the House next Wednesday. This is significant because the Government’s control of business makes it almost impossible for backbenchers to pass legislation giving effect to motions that have been approved by the House, effectively leaving the Government able to do as it wishes regardless of recent Brexit defeats. If passed, it’s likely that the parliamentary time would be used to amend the Act dictating that the UK will leave the EU on 29 March so that the default position is not to leave with no deal. This is in line with last night’s vote, although it’s important to note that it would not in itself change what happens under the terms of Article 50.
There are also amendments instructing the Prime Minister to seek an Article 50 extension and provide parliamentary time to consider other approaches, and seeking to stop the PM bringing the same deal back to the House for a third time. These two amendments would not be debated if the Benn amendment passes.
It’s expected that the Government will whip against all amendments, but after last night’s events when a number of ministers refused to vote in line with party instructions it’s very hard to predict the outcome of these votes. Voting begins at 5pm – hopefully sparing Brexit commentators from another late night – so by early evening we should have a clearer idea of next steps and whether we should expect ‘meaningful vote 3’ early next week.