Update: Today’s meaningful vote, tomorrow’s Spring Statement and other votes that may or may not follow

Featuring Daniel Sladen | 12th March, 2019

So far it’s been largely as predicted when the original meaningful vote was pulled before Christmas: a series of delays choreographed to deliver a final set of legal assurances as late as possible to increase pressure to vote for the deal.

The ‘assurances’ and the UK’s unilateral interpretation emerged at the last possible moment late last night; general consensus seems to be that they provide additional protection against bad faith on either side when trying to exit the backstop, but don’t change the fundamentals of what is needed to move on to the future relationship.

More detailed analysis of some of the changes is here.

Genuine uncertainty about whether it will be passed, but agreement that it hinges on the position of the DUP (difficult for ERG to oppose on grounds of threat to UK integrity if DUP back) and the strength of opinion the Attorney General (AG) can give on whether UK can unilaterally leave backstop

The Attorney General’s view has not yet been published and he will be making a statement to the Commons at 12.30 today ahead of the withdrawal agreement debate.

Spring Statement

Looking beyond the vote, the Chancellor has to deliver his Spring Statement tomorrow. The weekend press briefings majored on continuing the ‘end of austerity’ with about £20bn available for public spending and targeted tax increases if the deal passes. (The £20bn would be substantially funded by releasing funds earmarked to manage the costs associated with no-deal Brexit).

It’s difficult to say much more about the possible contents of the statement given the uncertainty about the votes, including the ‘rule out no-deal’ vote that is expected to follow on Wednesday if today’s MV2 is lost.

On top of the normal challenges of predicting what’s in the statement, we don’t know whether it would be a statement based on the assumption that Parliament rules out no deal, or on the assumption that no deal is now the default outcome.

However, if remotely accurate, this weekend’s report on financial institution assets leaving the UK (regardless of whether the deal is now passed) suggests a hole in future tax revenues.

Other votes

The final act of the week, if the Parliamentary schedule survives that far, will be a vote on requesting an extension of A50. It is hard to see this being avoided even if the deal passes, given the volume of legislation that has to be passed before leaving, deal or no deal.

The government line is still that 29 March is the target but it’s being phrased in less certain terms now.

From the EU side it’s already being emphasised that an extension beyond late May is impossible if the UK doesn’t participate in the European Parliament elections. In practice this probably means we get a short extension to either continue voting on the deal (if defeated today) or debate the legislation (if passed) before a new cliff edge somewhere around 24 May.

Predictions?

Too many unknowns to call; but remember that the withdrawal agreement is just first step in a journey requiring withdrawal legislation and negotiation of the future relationship by Dec 2020…and still no consensus on the kind of EU relationship that could be agreed by current Parliament. Uncertainty will be continuing for a while.

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