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Crunch time as Brexit deal faces ‘meaningful vote’

Rejecting the deal would either result in a no deal or no Brexit, warns May

EU

After another five days of debate, MPs are finally due to vote this evening on Theresa May’s deal for leaving the EU, and the result is widely expected to be a defeat for the Prime Minister.

May made a statement to the Commons yesterday in which she made a final attempt to win support for the withdrawal agreement and political declaration on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, warning that rejecting it would mean either no deal or no Brexit, and risk breaking up the UK.

The discussion this morning seems to focus mainly on the margin of loss however, with a Guardian analysis suggesting it could be by 200 votes, while the former Downing Street director of legislative affairs Nikki da Costa told the BBC’s Today programme this morning she expected it to be within the 50 to 80 range.

In a last-ditch effort to drum up support, Environment Secretary and Brexiteer Michael Gove urged MPs to support the deal on the programme, describing the deal as a “ripe bowl of glistening cherries” – alluding to the EU’s assertion at the beginning of negotiations that there would be no opportunity to “cherry pick” the best elements of EU membership.

Michael Gove

Michael Gove, Environment Secretary and Brexiteer

Nevertheless, the prospects of the deal going through looking slim, and speculation is already switching to what will come after. It’s thought that May will head back to Brussels after a defeat to try to win hard assurances on the Northern Ireland backstop that will be implemented if a future trade deal can’t be established – although it is clear from the last days of debate that MPs concerns extend well beyond that border issue.

There have also been calls for a cross-party collaboration on securing a deal – perhaps most likely if the defeat is particularly brutal – as well as a second referendum. Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to table a vote of no confidence in the government in an attempt to force a general election, drawing accusations that he is putting political ambition ahead of the national interest and frustrating those who would like the opposition to back a second vote.

MPs have an opportunity to table amendments before the vote at 7pm GMT this evening, including one seeking to give MPs a say on whether the backstop can be implemented, and these range from minor tweaks to major changes that would effectively scupper the deal.

At the same time, a group of Remain politicians has published proposed legislation that would implement a ‘People’s vote’, acknowledging that Article 50 would have to be extended to allow time for that to take place as the legal default is an exit on 29 March.

Last week’s controversial amendment gives the government just three days to table a motion on the next steps in the Commons, and with just 47 days to go until the default no-deal exit. On that timeframe, May would have to lay out ‘plan B’ next Monday, and this would also be put to a vote with the Brexit clock ticking down.

So, assuming the deal doesn’t go through, what form could plan B take? As it stands, the options appear to be: accepting no deal; continued preparations for no-deal and gambling on renegotiation in the hope of winning further EU concessions; a general election to force a change in government or achieve political backing for the deal; or passing the decision back to the electorate. These are uncharted and choppy political waters, and no-one can be sure how events will unfold in the coming days and weeks.

Industry does not seem optimistic of a positive outcome. BioIndustry Association (BIA) chief executive Steve Bates said in a blog post yesterday that the vote is a watershed, “but for our sector we expect ongoing detail from the government on no-deal contingencies”.

He said the BIA will concentrate its “analytical and briefing capability on providing members with actionable information, in what is a very uncertain political context”.

Article by
Phil Taylor

15th January 2019

From: Regulatory, Healthcare

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