We have not even got to Brexit day yet, but already the nation is running short of one much-used commodity – Westminster cliches. It used to be meaningful to talk about a “crunch week” for the prime minister. But in Brexit there have been more crunch moments than you get in a walk through the Cornflake factory after a spillage, and so the jargon doesn’t work any more.
This week we are due to get the fifth big Brexit vote (after meaningful vote 1, MV1, and three next steps votes, NS1, NS2 and NS3). If if all proceeds as people were expecting at the end of last week, Theresa May will lose badly in the vote on Tuesday (MV2) and, after MPs rule out no-deal on Wednesday, they will vote to extend article 50 on Thursday. This would be a very significant development; the UK would no longer be leaving the EU, as planned, on Friday 29 March, and arguably May and her government would have lost control of the whole Brexit process. (I say arguably, because it is not as if her grasp on events as been 100% up to now anyway.)
But this morning it is not even clear that MV2 will go ahead as expected. In the Times splash (paywall), Oliver Wright says May is under pressure to replace the vote on a motion backing her deal with a vote on a motion on an alternative plan that would be acceptable to parliament. Wright reports:
In phone calls with Downing Street, leading Tories in the Commons gave warning that the prime minister could face another three-figure defeat if she went ahead with her plan.
They have advised her to halt the vote and replace it with a motion setting out the kind of Brexit deal that would be acceptable to Tory MPs to keep the party together and put pressure on Brussels.
“As it stands her deal is going to be defeated,” a senior party source said. “It has been made clear to Downing Street that it would be eminently sensible to avoid that by proposing a motion that the party can support. Whether they listen or not is another matter” …
Tory MPs have also urged Mrs May to come up with a Plan B should no deal be reached. “Anything that avoids what looks like a massive defeat on Tuesday is worth considering,” the former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell said.
Under the plan, instead of holding a meaningful vote tomorrow, the government would lay a conditional motion setting out terms that might be acceptable to parliament to deal with the Irish backstop issue. Those who support the plan say it would send a message to the EU about the kind of deal that might get a parliamentary majority.
Yesterday No 10 were insisting the vote would go ahead. But overnight they are saying the talks in Brussels are “deadlocked” and the prospect of a last-minute U-turn is being taken seriously by Tory MPs. Mark Francois, vice chair of the European Research Group, which represents Conservatives pushing for a harder Brexit, told Sky News this morning that he thought there was a good chance that May would adopt the plan described by the Times. Asked if he thought May would pull the vote, he replied:
I would say, as of now, this morning, I’d say it’s about 50/50 that they are going to pull the vote, despite everything they are saying, because why come back to the House of Commons to be thumped again? What does that achieve?
Here is the agenda for the day.
10am: Yvette Cooper, the Labour chair of the home affairs committee, gives a speech to the Centre for European Reform on Brexit.
11am: Downing Street lobby briefing.
Morning: Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary, gives a speech on the opportunity society.
11am: John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, gives a speech ahead of the spring statement on Wednesday.
12.15pm: Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, gives evidence to the Brexit committee.
4.15pm: Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, gives evidence to the work and pensions committee on the benefit freeze.
As usual, I will also be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web, but I expect to be focusing mostly on Brexit. I plan to post a summary at lunchtime and another when I wrap up, at around 6pm.
You can read all the latest Guardian politics articles here. Here is the Politico Europe round-up of this morning’s political news. And here is the PoliticsHome list of today’s top 10 must-reads.
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