James Forsyth

Can Theresa May get any Brexit plan through the Commons?

Can Theresa May get any Brexit plan through the Commons?
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Tuesday is the last chance for those MPs who want to secure as meaningful a Brexit as possible, I write in The Sun this morning. That evening, MPs will vote on a series of Brexit amendments designed to show the EU what kind of withdrawal agreement the Commons would accept.

If one of them passes, then Theresa May can go back to Brussels and say: look, this is what will get the deal through my parliament. It would give her a decent chance of getting the EU to engage.

But if none of these amendments can muster a majority, then the EU will simply sit tight. It knows that this parliament is fiercely opposed to no deal, and so isn’t concerned that the UK will actually go down that route.

So far, there are a variety of amendments down. One from the elected chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers Graham Brady says, the Commons will support the withdrawal agreement if the backstop is replaced by ‘alternative arrangements’ to prevent a hard border in Ireland. Another from the Tory chairman of the Northern Ireland Select Committee Andrew Murrison seeks to time limit the backstop.

Influential Cabinet Ministers have also been pushing for the government to table its own amendment. They are confident that they are winning that argument, and one will go down before Tuesday. Though, some in Number 10 still prefer to put their faith in the Murrison amendment.

The significance of a government amendment would be that the Speaker John Bercow would have no choice but to call it.

One indispensable minister involved in these discussions tells me, ‘A government amendment could well be a more objective exit mechanism which would allow us to demonstrate that this is not going to be permanent’.

The outline of this amendment has, I understand, being discussed with the DUP and ministers believe that the ‘likelihood’ is that they will support it. Though, one cautions that ‘what may seem a given one day, can suddenly unravel’.

Number 10 won’t be drawn on whether a government amendment will be tabled or not. But leading Cabinet Ministers are confident it will be.

There is no guarantee that a government amendment will carry the day. ‘To pull this off, you need the ERG to come in behind it—and that’s quite a big ask’ says one of those intimately involved in these discussions. This source warns that ‘emotionally a lot of them will find it very difficult’.

But these Brexiteer MPs need to realise that if nothing passes on Tuesday, then parliamentary efforts to extend Article 50 will gather more support. Brexit itself will be in danger and this country will end up with a super soft Brexit or no Brexit at all.