Row brewing over Thursday’s Government motion opposing a no-deal Brexit

Row brewing over Thursday’s Government motion opposing a no-deal Brexit

A big row is brewing this morning over the motion that the Government has tabled for tomorrow’s full day of debate on Brexit in the Commons, which the eurosceptic MPs in the European Research Group have told government whips they cannot support.

With MPs having expected a neutral, anodyne (albeit amendable) motion to be tabled, instead the Government yesterday tabled a motion that endorses the approach to Brexit as agreed by amendments passed by the Commons on 29th January.

Whilst welcoming Theresa May’s statement delivered in the Commons yesterday and noting that “discussions between the UK and the EU on the Northern Ireland backstop are ongoing”, the motion states that the House:

“reiterates its support for the approach to leaving the EU expressed by this House on 29 January 2019”

Far from being neutral, this means that MPs are being called upon to back a motion that would not only be endorsing the demand of Sir Graham Brady’s amendment for the backstop to be replaced, but also the other successful amendment of two weeks ago – from Dame Caroline Spelman – that states opposition to leaving the EU without a deal.

I gather that there was a fiery meeting in the Government Whips’ Office yesterday involving leading lights of the ERG during which the Tory eurosceptics indicated that they could not support a motion that ruled out the prospect of a no-deal Brexit. The ERG suggested that it be pulled and a new version tabled today. But the government whips did not acquiesce to their entreaties and ministers therefore face the prospect of potentially losing the vote tomorrow if they refuse to table an alternative motion and Labour and other opposition parties then whip their MPs to oppose the motion as currently tabled.

While the motion would not be legally binding, its being voted down on Valentine’s Day would create embarrassing and unnecessary “Government defeated again on Brexit” headlines, spoiling the peace, love and unity that had broken out on the government benches over the successful Brady amendment last month.

A senior ERG source tells me:

“This is clearly not a neutral motion, as it effectively endorses the Spelman amendment – which ruled out No Deal – which is explicitly contrary to the Government’s own policy and which would completely destroy our leverage in the critical negotiations with the EU. If they supported this motion on Thursday, the Government would effectively be voting against their own expressed policy, as repeated in the House, including by the Prime Minister, on numerous occasions. This is utterly chaotic, bordering on farce.

“We told the Government very clearly last night that we will not support this motion and in fact we urged them, indeed pleaded with them at senior level, to withdraw it yesterday – but they took absolutely no notice. Frankly, we despair.”