As expected, the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement was defeated in Tuesday’s vote by a record margin, leading to a vote of no confidence taking place in Parliament yesterday. Also as expected, the Government won the vote of no confidence, relying on the votes of DUP MPs for a majority of 19.
This piece of parliamentary arithmetic is important, as it demonstrates that the survival of the Government depends on putting forward a Brexit deal that the DUP is prepared to support – which means avoiding any kind of divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Following the defeat of the withdrawal agreement, we’re now beginning to see what the Government’s “Plan B” could be; the answer at the moment seems to be that it looks rather like “Plan A”. The Prime Minister has invited leaders of other parties and some senior backbench MPs to discuss possible ways forward, but Number 10 is briefing that none of the “red lines” that shaped the withdrawal agreement are up for discussion. A further referendum, participation in a customs union, and an extension of Article 50 beyond 29 March 2019 have all been explicitly ruled out.
The situation remains deadlocked.
So what is the timetable for further movement?
The Prime Minister is required to make a statement to Parliament on 21 January, and MPs can table amendments to the resulting motion. This is expected to be used as a vehicle for backbench MPs to attempt to influence the way forward, probably including votes designed to rule out a “no deal” outcome. However the Government has delayed the debate on the motion until 29 January, and will not bring other Brexit legislation back to the Commons before that date, meaning no formal progress is likely to be made until the end of this month at the earliest.
By that point, the scheduled Brexit day of 29 March will be less than two months away.