Yesterday, the British parliament passed by the narrowest of margins 313 to 312 a motion proposed by backbenchers and supported largely by the opposition and opposed by the government that if there was no Brexit deal by the April 12 deadline, the UK would ask the EU for an extension of Article 50 rather than leave with no deal. The bill does not say how long the extension should be nor is there any guarantee that the EU would agree to it. This bill was vehemently opposed by hardline Leavers who seem to be hoping that the current deadlock will lead to a default no-deal outcome.
The bill is now being debated on a fast track in the House of Lords where it seems likely to pass despite attempts at filibustering by Brexit supporters. (I had thought that members of the House of Lords, being part of such an anachronistic institution, still wore wigs and robes but a livestream of the debate shows them in ordinary business attire. The presiding person is also much less charismatic that John Bercow so the whole thing is a lot less fun.) Once the bill passes that body (assuming it does), it will go the Queen to formally give approval on Monday and then it becomes binding on the government even though they opposed it. Then prime minister Theresa May May must come to parliament next Tuesday and specify an extension date to the Friday, April 12 deadline to be presented to the summit meeting of EU leaders on Wednesday.
Meanwhile May and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn continue to hold discussions on a possible deal but arriving at one that they can sell to their respective parties is going to be tough. May will be fiercely fought by the hardliners in her party if she agrees to anything other than leaving the EU completely and Corbyn is being pressured to push for a second referendum or ‘people’s vote’ on Brexit, something that is bitterly opposed by Leavers.
The cross-party group that drafted the bill that passed parliament is concerned about May executing an end-run around their plan.
Senior MPs who oppose Theresa May’s Brexit deal have met to discuss how to stop No 10 “stitching up” crucial votes that will decide how the UK leaves the European Union.
The cross-party group includes Sir Oliver Letwin, Nick Boles, Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn, who have already successfully forced legislation to prevent a no-deal Brexit through the House of Commons.
They are now concerned that No 10 could present a series of alternatives for how Brexit happens for parliament to vote on – such as May’s deal, Labour’s proposals, or a customs union – without consulting MPs properly about what options should be on the table.
There is growing suspicion that the government is still set on trying to get the prime minister’s deal through parliament if talks with Jeremy Corbyn fail.
May has said she will first try to make a deal with Corbyn but if that is not successful, she will try to agree a process with him to allow parliament to find a solution, as long as Labour also promises to be bound by the result.
In what is being seen as a metaphor for a broken system, the House of Commons was suspended on Thursday due to a torrent of water falling from the ceiling into the press gallery.