MPs vote to delay Brexit beyond 29th March: Brexit News for Friday 15 March

MPs vote to delay Brexit beyond 29th March: Brexit News for Friday 15 March
Sign up here to receive the daily news briefing in your inbox every morning with exclusive insight from the BrexitCentral team

MPs vote to delay Brexit beyond 29th March…

Theresa May will ask the EU to delay Brexit beyond March 29 after seeing off an attempt by MPs to seize control of the negotiating process by only two votes. An amendment that would have passed control of the legislative agenda to MPs next Wednesday was rejected narrowly by 314 votes to 312. Had just one MP who voted against the plan instead voted in favour then the result would have been a tie, with the casting vote down to John Bercow, the Speaker. The last time a Speaker had to use their casting vote was in 1993, during the Maastricht debates. The amendment was tabled by Hilary Benn, the Labour chairman of the Brexit committee. It would have effectively allowed parliament to dictate what Mrs May should ask the other 27 EU countries for in terms of a Brexit delay, as well as giving MPs the opportunity to coalesce around alternative plans for the negotiations with Brussels. Instead, the overwhelming majority of MPs backed the government’s motion to ask the EU for an extension to the Article 50 negotiating process with 413 MPs in favour and 202 against. – The Times (£)

…as Cabinet unity crumbles with eight top ministers refusing to back Theresa May’s Article 50 extension…

The unity of Theresa May’s cabinet has publicly crumbled after eight of her most senior ministers refused to back her plan to delay Brexit by three months. Those who failed to support it included the prime minister’s Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay, who was joined by 187 other Conservative MPs and frontbenchers in voting against her approach. None of the ministers opposing Ms May’s ultimately successful move to delay Brexit will be sacked, because she allowed a “free vote” on the issue in the face of a mass rebellion. It followed a rowdy cabinet meeting in the morning where tempers frayed over a separate rebellion the night before in which remainer cabinet ministers refused to vote with the government on a motion ruling out a no-deal Brexit. As a result of Thursday night’s votes, however, the path is cleared for Ms May to put her twice-rejected Brexit deal to a third vote of MPs, and if it is passed she will request a Brexit delay until 30 June to push through necessary legislation. Discussions between Conservative ministers and the party’s Northern Irish DUP allies in government continued as Ms May hunts for a majority for her agreement. – Independent

  • Seven Cabinet ministers defy Theresa May to oppose Brexit delay as more than half of Tory MPs vote against PM – Telegraph (£)
  • Eight cabinet ministers, including the Brexit secretary, vote against Theresa May’s plan to delay Brexit – iNews

…while May fights off the Remainer attempt to seize parliamentary control of Brexit by just two votes

It was the narrowest of margins, but Theresa May fought off an attempt by Remain MPs to take control of the Brexit process on Thursday night by just two votes. The amendment to give MPs indicative votes on a way forward still gained the support of 15 Tories – who defied a Government whip to vote to undermine the Prime Minister. The amendment – tabled by Labour MPs Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper and Tory Sir Oliver Letwin – was defeated by 314 votes to 312. Asked why more Remainer colleagues had not joined the rebellion – seen as a sure fire way to block no deal – one Tory MP reportedly said: “They are morons – genuinely not bright”, revealing the acrimony of the splits forming within the party. The newly formed Independent Group of 11 MPs, including three former Conservatives also backed the amendment along with 282 opposition MPs and four independents. Ten DUP MPs, six Labour MPs and four independents opposed the move and voted with the Government along with 294 Tories – including the entire cabinet. – Telegraph (£)

MPs overwhelmingly reject a Brexit delay for a second referendum…

MPs have rejected an amendment calling for another Brexit referendum if Article 50 is extended. The Commons held a series of votes on whether to delay Brexit after MPs dramatically rejected Theresa May’s deal and also voted down the prospect of leaving the EU without an agreement. An amendment was tabled by Independent Group MP Sarah Wollaston which sought to extend Article 50 to stage a second referendum, with Remain as well as Parliament’s preferred Brexit option on the ballot paper. But the amendment was overwhelmingly voted down by 334 to 85. Labour’s lack of support for the amendment was labelled a “betrayal” of its voters by MPs supporting another referendum – iNews

> Jonathan Isaby on BrexitCentral today: MPs reject second referendum and back Government motion seeking an Article 50 extension – how all MPs voted  

…although John Bercow sparks a row for not allowing vote on ruling out a second referendum…

A furious row erupted last night after John Bercow refused to allow a vote on ruling out a second EU referendum for good. The Commons Speaker ignited fury by refusing to select the amendment tabled by Brexiteers – even though it was backed by a 127 MPs. Mr Bercow left Brexiteers seething as he picked a rival amendment calling for a second referendum even though it has less support. Furious MPs rounded on the Speaker – who has admitted he voted Remain –accusing him of flouting centuries-old tradition that he remains strictly impartial. In angry clashes on the floor of the Commons, Tory MPs accused Mr Bercow of being biased, and “sucking up to Labour to keep his job”. The shock decision came despite it attracting cross party support from DUP and Labour MPs too. But senior Tory backbencher Sir Bernard Jenkin openly accused Mr Bercow of pro-Remain bias, saying: “What are we to conclude from your own views on these matters?” Tory Brexiteer Mark Francois angrily demanded to know why it had not been selected when “it therefore had far more signatories than any other amendment on the order paper”. – The Sun

  • John Bercow accused of Brexit bias after blocking bid by MPs to rule out second referendum – Telegraph (£)

…as MPs quit Corbyn’s front bench amidst ‘spineless’ Labour’s second referendum shambles…

MPs comprehensively rejected an attempt to secure a second referendum on Brexit on Thursday as fresh Labour divisions were exposed by the vote with front bench resignations. The Commons voted by 334 to 85 votes, a majority of 249, to reject a cross-party motion calling for a second referendum which had been tabled by Independent MP Sarah Wollaston. Labour’s leadership told MPs to abstain, arguing now was a time focus on trying to find a compromise solution and extending Article 50 rather than pushing for a second referendum. However, three frontbenchers were among 18 Labour MPs who voted against the motion including Ruth Smeeth, who resigned as parliamentary private secretary to deputy leader Tom Watson. The Stoke on Trent MP said: “This was a difficult decision but I have a duty to support the will of my constituents. We need to leave, and leave with a deal that works for the Potteries.” Twenty-five Labour MPs backed it but as many as 200 Labour MPs abstained. Labour frontbenchers Yvonne Fovargue, Emma Lewell-Buck and Justin Maddders also resigned over the second referendum vote, joining Ms Smeeth and Stephanie Peacock. Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary, faced accusations of “fraud” and “shame” in the Commons when he confirmed Labour would not be supporting the motion. – Telegraph (£)

  • Ruth Smeeth resigns as Labour PPS to vote against second referendum – StokeOnTrentLive

…and top Corbyn ally says a second referendum would be ‘disaster’

Labour is in Brexit chaos again today after an ally of Jeremy Corbyn said it would a “disaster” to hold a second referendum – and the party said it won’t actually back one in the Commons. Angela Rayner, who has said repeatedly that she doesn’t want a second vote, thinks it would be a terrible idea to go back to the people yet again. That’s despite it being official Labour party policy to back another vote. The party is split into two over whether to fight for a second vote and keep their Remainer supporters on side, or to embrace Brexit to keep voters in Northern Leave areas happy. Ms Rayner said on ITV’s Peston last night on another vote: “I think that would be disastrous for us as Members of Parliament to go back to the people with it, because we would have failed in trying to find a consensus. I want to find a consensus across the House, to respect the result.” The party policy claims only if it’s the only way forward to stop a No Deal Brexit will they push for a referendum. – The Sun

Philip Hammond risks accusation of undermining Theresa May’s Brexit strategy as he says MPs should ‘explore other options’

Philip Hammond risked accusations of trying to undermine Theresa May’s Brexit strategy after he said it was necessary to consider alternatives to the Prime Minister’s deal. The Chancellor said he hoped the Withdrawal Agreement Mrs May struck with the European Union could ultimately win the backing of a majority of MPs despite the fact it has already been rejected twice. But he said the House of Commons should “explore other options” in order to break the Brexit stalemate. Mr Hammond told Sky News: “I am very happy with the Prime Minister’s deal. I would be delighted if a consensus emerges behind the Prime Minister’s deal over the next day or two. But I think we also have to explore other options for Parliament to express a view about how we resolve this impasse.” The Prime Minister remains adamant that her deal is the only one available and she is planning to offer MPs a third vote on it at the start of next week. But many Cabinet ministers believe it is now time for Mrs May to change tack and offer MPs a series of indicative votes on alternative ways forward.” – Telegraph (£)

May rounds on ministers who defied the whip on no-deal motion…

A furious Theresa May rounded on her cabinet ministers on Thursday, upbraiding the four cabinet ministers who defied a three-line whip and abstained on a no-deal Brexit motion on Wednesday night. In a cabinet meeting described as “difficult” and “tense” the day after a chaotic night in parliament, the prime minister angrily criticised the rebel ministers as well as the whole cabinet for its tendency to leak – only for business secretary Greg Clark to leap to the rebel group’s defence. The other rebels were the Scottish secretary, David Mundell, the work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, and the justice secretary, David Gauke. After the confrontation, Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, urged cabinet ministers to unite and focus on efforts to win over the Democratic Unionist party ahead of the third meaningful vote. Strenuous diplomatic overtures have been made to the DUP, whose leader Arlene Foster suggested on Thursday that she was ready to broker a deal to secure the party’s backing. Foster, who is visiting Washington for an event she attended with the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said her party was back in talks with the government, and that she believed a compromise would be found in the final days. – Guardian

…with Justice Secretary David Gauke reportedly asked to quit by Tory whips, sparking a mutiny by ‘Remain’ Ministers…

Justice Secretary David Gauke was asked to quit by Tory whips yesterday – sparking a mutiny by ‘Remain’ Ministers. The Sun can reveal both the Justice Secretary and Richard Harrington were asked to resign over the No Deal rebellion on Wednesday night. But sources claimed that both stood their ground – and warned their departure would trigger a mass walkout by more than a dozen other ‘Remain’ Ministers. One senior source said: “It was all of us – or none of us.” Some 13 Tory Ministers including Mr Gauke, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd and Business Secretary Greg Clark defied Theresa May by ‘abstaining’ on a crunch No Deal vote on Wednesday night. It meant they broke ‘collective responsibility’ which traditionally would mean they are sacked. Furious Brexiteers demanded they be sacked from their jobs as the price for defying the Government and helping Labour take No Deal off the table. – The Sun

…while Amber Rudd writes to her constituents to explain why she defied whips to keep no deal Brexit off the table

Cabinet minister Amber Rudd has written to her constituents to explain why she defied her party whips to abstain rather than vote to keep a no-deal Brexit on the table. The Work and Pensions Secretary told her constituents in pro-Brexit Hastings and Rye she believed leaving the EU without a deal would have done “generational damage to our economy and security.” She added: “It is a mistake to leave the EU without a deal, but it is right to prepare to do so just in case so we can mitigate any damage as best as we can.” Despite calls by some Tory MPs for the 13 ministers who abstained to be sacked, Ms Rudd said she had done so because it was “the only opportunity to vote to prevent no deal at the end of this month”. She said it was “completely consistent” with Government policy. Ms Rudd joined Justice Secretary and Business Secretary Greg Clark last month in publicly warning Brexit should be delayed if Parliament failed to approve a deal. They warned they would be prepared to defy Theresa May and vote for a delay rather than crash out of the EU on March 29 without a deal. – Telegraph (£)

May set to hold third ‘meaningful vote’ on her Brexit deal next week…

Theresa May will hold a third “meaningful vote” on Brexit after MPs authorised her to ask for a lengthy delay if no deal has been agreed by next Wednesday. Huge pressure is now being put on the DUP and Brexiteers to fall in behind the Prime Minister’s deal to avoid the risk of Article 50 having to be extended by up to two years. But it emerged on Thursday night that the “star chamber” of legally-trained Brexiteer MPs has already rejected fresh legal advice from Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, over the Northern Irish backstop. On Thursday night, MPs voted by 413 votes to 202 in favour of delaying Brexit by at least three months, but Mrs May had to rely on Labour votes for a mandate after more than half of Conservative MPs opposed a delay. In an extraordinary turn of events, 188 Tories voted against the Government motion to delay Brexit, including Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and six other Cabinet ministers. Only 112 Tories backed the motion. Mrs May had allowed a free vote on the issue of whether to delay Brexit, meaning none of the ministers will have to resign, but the mass rebellion against the Government line was another shattering blow to Mrs May’s dwindling authority. – Telegraph (£)

…as Tory MPs warn May she will have to quit to win their support for her deal

Theresa May will have to set out a timetable for her resignation in order to get her Brexit deal through, Tory MPs warned last night. The PM is set to ask the Commons to vote on her much-maligned withdrawal agreement for a third time next week, insisting it is the only way to avoid a long delay to Brexit.  MPs last night voted to ask for an extension to Article 50, which the PM says could be a short delay until June if Parliament passes her deal – or a much longer one if they reject it a third time. Her former policy chief George Freeman yesterday became the first MP to break cover and suggest that a promise of her resignation could be the only way to persuade Eurosceptic MPs to back her deal. The intervention came as ministers piled pressure on Attorney General Geoffrey Cox to tweak his legal advice on the deal in the hope of winning the support of Eurosceptics and the DUP. Eurosceptic MPs have warned privately for weeks that they could not contemplate allowing the Prime Minister and her chief Brexit adviser Olly Robbins to negotiate the second phase of the Brexit talks which will set the UK’s long-term relationship with the EU. – Daily Mail

May hopes that anti-deal DUP and ERG MPs will be wooed by new legal advice from Geoffrey Cox…

Geoffrey Cox is attempting to win over Eurosceptic Tory MPs and the DUP with new legal advice stating that Britain will be able to break off from the Irish backstop under the terms of the Vienna Convention, The Telegraph can disclose. In the advice the Attorney General states that Britain will be able to end the backstop if it having a “socially destabilising effect on Northern Ireland”, which would be considered a “fundamental change” of circumstances under the terms of the treaty.  However, the so-called ‘star chamber’ of Eurosceptic Tory lawyers, which includes the DUP’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds, has produced a five-page analysis of the advice and concluded that it is “erroneous” and “badly misconceived”. It represents a significant blow to the Prime Minister’s attempts to win support for her deal ahead of a third meaningful vote next week. – Telegraph (£)

…but eurosceptic lawyers reject the bid to ease their backstop fears

Theresa May faced a further set back to convincing Eurosceptics and the Democratic Unionist Party to support her deal after a panel of pro-Brexit lawyers rejected another attempt to quell fears about the backstop. The lawyers rejected additional legal advice from Geoffrey Cox, the attorney-general, which said that the UK could use the Vienna Convention — the international treaty that outlines rules on treaties — to pull out of the backstop unilaterally. They described it as “badly misconceived”. Mr Cox’s advice centres on Article 62 of the convention, which states that if there has been “a fundamental change of circumstances” after the conclusion of a treaty “which was not foreseen by the parties”, then countries could withdraw from it. The group of Brexiteer lawyers, including Sir Bill Cash, the veteran Tory, and Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the DUP, argued that “given the high burden that a state must meet to use it, and given the extreme reluctance of international courts and tribunals to accept it”, the Vienna Convention route “supplies no assurance whatsoever that the UK could terminate the withdrawal agreement in a lawful manner”. The Times was told that the attorney-general had been given until Sunday night to update his legal advice in a last throw of the dice to get Mrs May’s deal passed. The prime minister is expected to bring the agreement back to the Commons next week for a third vote. – The Times (£)

  • Attorney General Geoffrey Cox warned using Vienna Convention to get out of backstop is a ‘complete non-starter’ – Evening Standard

EU furious with May for calling third Brexit vote on eve of summit…

Brussels has reacted furiously after Theresa May announced plans to hold a third meaningful vote on her Brexit deal just one day before an EU summit to approve an extension to the Article 50 negotiations. While EU-27 leaders are divided over the length and conditions for the extension beyond the March 29 deadline, they are united in their irritation that the prime minister will give the bloc very little time to consider their response and prepare a joint position. Last night Mrs May said that MPs would hold a third vote on her deal on March 20. Officials and diplomats have told Britain to set out its extension plans as early as possible, preferably on Thursday, ahead of the summit in Brussels on March 21. “There is frustration and anger among the ambassadors of the EU-27 in Brussels at Mrs May’s plan. This is not how things are done before EU summits. We need to plan. A lack of planning leads to another Salzburg,” the diplomat added, in a reference to one of Mrs May’s humiliations at the hands of EU leaders at a summit last year.” – Telegraph (£)

…with Brussels suggesting agreeing to extra time will be conditional on a second referendum

The European Union is poised to tell Theresa May that she must hold a second referendum or soften Brexit in return for them granting a lengthy delay to Britain’s departure date. The Times understands that the prime minister has been told by senior EU officials and other European leaders that conditions for an extension to the Article 50 exit process would include the option of a second vote on EU membership. Mrs May is expected to ask a summit of EU leaders next week for a delay to Brexit. Unless the House of Commons has ratified the withdrawal agreement by then momentum is growing across the EU for a lengthy postponement to give Britain a “long reflection period”. Donald Tusk, president of the European council, who will chair next Thursday’s talks between EU leaders, is pushing for a long extension so that Britain can either reverse or soften Brexit. “During my consultations ahead of the European council, I will appeal to the EU 27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it,” he said. – The Times (£)

Ireland pushes for 21-month Brexit delay so UK can reconsider its decision

Ireland is pushing for Britain to delay Brexit by up to 21 months until the end of 2020 so it can have a “fundamental rethink” about its decision to exit the European Union. Theresa May has granted MPs the chance to vote on an extension to Article 50 in the House of Commons this evening following two crushing defeats in as many days. On Tuesday, her Brexit deal was again rejected in the meaningful vote by a majority of 149, despite her securing crucial “legally binding” changes to the Irish backstop. Just hours before Attorney General Geoffrey Cox admitted the legal risk on the Irish backstop remained unchanged. Last night, the rejection of a no deal Brexit was passed by 312 votes to 278, setting up another vote this evening on whether Brexit should be delayed beyond the proposed date of March 29. Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the European Union may grant Britain a Brexit extension by nearly two years. This would mean Britain participating in the upcoming European Parliament elections in May, with a presence there possibly prompting a rethink over its exit. – Express

Britain could leave in months even if MPs vote for a long Brexit delay

Britain could leave the European Union within months even if the government agrees to extend the Article 50 negotiations by two years, senior government sources have confirmed. The prime minister is trying to force MPs to choose between her deal and a “long” extension, which could last up to two years. However, senior government sources have confirmed that the exit date could be brought forward. If Britain and the European Union agreed on a long extension, but MPs then passed a revised Brexit deal in the coming months with the consent of Brussels, it might be possible to leave early. “There are lots of ifs and buts and everything would have to be agreed but it could be possible to leave before the agreed revised exit date,” a source said. MPs believe that Theresa May wants to frighten MPs into a choice between voting for her deal or two more years in the EU. Britain would still need to agree the duration of the transition period with the EU and ensure certainty for arrangements affecting businesses but Brussels is unlikely to be opposed to this in principle. – The Times (£)

Donald Trump criticises May for ‘how badly’ Brexit talks have gone…

Donald Trump has criticized Theresa May’s handling of the Brexit talks, while also saying the United States will stay out of Britain’s negotiations over its exit from the European Union. The US president also said he did not think another vote on Brexit would be possible because it would be unfair, and reiterated that he would like to see a US trade deal with the United Kingdom after it leaves the EU. Speaking to reporters ahead of his meeting on Thursday with Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, Trump said he wants Brexit talks to work out but was surprised at how badly the negotiations have gone, adding that the British prime minister did not listen to his suggestions on how to negotiate Trump said Brexit was “tearing countries apart” and added that he was surprised “how badly” it has gone since the UK’s referendum on leaving the EU. “I think it could have been negotiated in a different manner,” he said. Varadkar, sitting alongside Trump at the White House, said he looked forward to discussing Brexit with Trump and that he would like to see a European trade deal with the United States. – Guardian

…but talks up prospects for a UK trade deal

The possibilities for a post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and the United States are “unlimited”, President Trump has said. Mr Trump talked up the prospects of a “large-scale” free trade agreement once the UK leaves the European Union. Officials are preparing to start negotiations within weeks. He made his latest intervention as MPs prepared to vote later today on delaying Brexit, which is due to take place in 15 days’ time, and as Theresa May sought to keep her deal with Brussels alive. “My Administration looks forward to negotiating a large scale Trade Deal with the United Kingdom,” Mr Trump tweeted this morning. “The potential is unlimited!” Liam Fox, international trade secretary, insisted again today that a trade deal with the US would not lower British food standards. MPs and campaigners have expressed concern over recent weeks after the Trump administration indicated that it would push to have food including chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef on British supermarket shelves under a bilateral pact. He noted that Mr Trump had “shown his ambition” for an extensive agreement adding “greater trade between us reinforces a comprehensive alliance the goes far beyond the economic,” Dr Fox said. “I look forward to sitting down at the negotiating table to strengthen this special trading relationship.” – The Times (£)

John Longworth: Now Brexit is to be delayed, we must demand to take part in the EU elections

There has been much talk of a constitutional crisis and certainly there are constitutional matters to be considered in the process of leaving the EU, but the real crisis is one of democracy. Parliamentarians should be hanging their heads in shame. Parliament votes to run a referendum, a ballot which gave an option of leaving the EU but never mentioned a deal, it simply said “leave”. Many in Parliament didn’t like the result but none the less they voted overwhelmingly to trigger Article 50. They voted to repeal the European Communities Act and to introduce a date of leaving the EU which remains the law of the land. Furthermore, the vast majority of MPs were elected on the basis of manifestos that promised to leave the EU, the customs union and the single market. And yet here we are, fifteen days before the exit date and Parliament has voted to remove the key negotiating leverage from the government, that is no-deal, and have effectively voted to advise the government not to leave on March 29 since this would require leaving without a trade deal with the EU. – Telegraph (£)

Fraser Nelson: With no-deal off the table, Mrs May could pull off an unlikely triumph

Who’s afraid of voters anyway? It was Jess Phillips, the refreshingly frank Labour MP, who said it first, in Wednesday’s debate. For the past two years, she said, MPs have been warned about not betraying the wishes of the 17.4 million people who wanted Brexit – but why are politicians all so terrified of them? Isn’t it time for them to lead? Anna Soubry, who recently deserted the Tories, declared that she, too, is unafraid of voters. Other MPs followed with similar points: saying (as one Lib Dem put it) that it is “finally time to bust the myth of ‘the will of the people’ ”. Time, in other words, for MPs to take back control. The resulting chaos has only just started. The various amendments voted on last night were just the latest sign of a Government that has lost control. We have seen four Cabinet members openly defy the Prime Minister in the voting lobbies, yet keep their jobs. We have seen the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, float his own rival Brexit plan in the middle of his Spring Statement. This is political anarchy. And the only way to end it might be to vote through Theresa May’s deal. – Telegraph (£)

Nikki Da Costa: Is John Bercow seizing his moment to decisively kill off Brexit?

Picture the scene, it’s Monday morning, the ERG, DUP and Geoffrey Cox finally reach agreement – they’ll support the deal. A motion is tabled. Anticipation and excitement build overnight, the debate is due to start, and then…the Speaker declares there cannot be a third vote on the deal because it breaks parliamentary convention. He can do it. On Wednesday, Angela Eagle MP, outraged that the Government intended to have yet another vote on the deal despite being decisively defeated twice, asked the Speaker to rule it out of order. Eagle was referring to the “same question, same session” convention: that a motion which is the same, in substance, as a question which has been decided previously in the same session may not be brought forward again. It’s the parliamentary equivalent of the double jeopardy rule. The Speaker’s response, for once fairly business-like, was that “a ruling would be made about that matter at the appropriate time”. Inside, he may have felt a shiver of anticipation. It put the Government on notice that he, the Speaker, may not allow a third meaningful vote. One likes to think that the Speaker, despite an abysmal record, would take this moment to prove that he is capable of acting impartially, but I confess I’m less than certain. I am though not his biggest fan. – Nikki Da Costa for the Telegraph (£)

Robert Peston: The risk of a no-deal Brexit just increased again

What kind of Brexit delay, if any, would the European Union’s leaders sanction, when the Prime Minister asks for one in a week’s time, at the next EU Council? Truthfully no one knows. Actually that is only half right. In the implausible event that MPs next week ratify the PM’s Brexit deal at the third time of asking, they would grant her a couple of months’ postponement of the moment we depart, so that legislative and technical preparations could be completed. Just to be clear, I don’t see how she wins. Too many Brexiter and Remainy Tory MPs hate her deal so much that they’ll never be intimidated into backing it. They will also be acutely aware that parliament risks being brought into serious disrepute if all the stale arguments that were rehearsed for hour upon mind-numbing hour during the two previous meaningful-vote debates are restated next week by the same predictable roster of characters and yet yield a different outcome. This would not be democracy gilded by the power of reason. It would be widely seen as the bankruptcy of parliament – a Commons tainted by the correct perception that MPs would be changing their minds at the last only because they would have been frightened into believing that a form of Brexit they see as bad for Britain may yet be better than an unknown alternative. – Robert Peston for The Spectator

Pieter Cleppe: Britain will have plenty of scope to cause trouble in Brussels after delay to Brexit

The likes of EU Council President Donald Tusk and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney have been doing their utmost to scare Brexiteers in Parliament into backing Theresa May’s deal by raising the prospect of a very long extension of the UK’s EU membership. Apparently, Tusk has an extension of one year in mind, which puts him in agreement with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s right-hand man, Martin Selmayr, and follows the strategy being outlined by Theresa May’s chief Brexit advisor Olly Robbins when he was overheard in a Brussels bar. They might need to think twice before they make such an offer. It’s certainly worth considering what, precisely, a long extension would entail. The first question is obviously whether the UK is obliged to hold European Parliament elections. The EU Treaty mandates that Members of the European Parliament are elected by “direct universal suffrage”, but different people hold different interpretations of what that means and to what extent acts of the European Parliament would no longer be legal in the absence of UK MEPs. – Pieter Cleppe for the Telegraph (£)

Iain Dale: Rudd, Clark, Gauke. After all their bluster about resigning, abstaining ministers took the cowardly way out

Where to start. I write this before the Article 50 extension votes have taken place on Thursday, but let’s face it, the main damage as already been done. The only conclusion one can draw from the sorry events of this week is that the Prime Minister’s reputation has been further damaged, her government has been damaged below the waterline, the prospects of Brexit ever happening have been severely damaged, the reputation of the 14 government ministers who so courageously abstained against a three-line whip has been damaged, and the whole concept of collective responsibility and accountability has perhaps irreparably been damaged. That’s a whole lot of damage. Let’s start with the four Cabinet Ministers, eight junior ministers and two PPSs who failed to obey a three-line whip and abstained on the No Deal amended motion. They deserve to be named. They are Amber Rudd, Greg Clark, David Gauke, David Mundell, Stephen Hammond, Richard Harrington, Tobias Ellwood, Robert Buckland, Alistair Burt, Margot James, Anne Milton, Claire Perry, Vicky Ford and Bim Afolami. Two others, Sarah Newton and Paul Masterton, voted against the three-line whip. At least they had the honour and courage to resign, unlike their abstaining colleagues. – Iain Dale for ConservativeHome

Bob Seely: I am shocked by fellow MPs who think the will of Parliament trumps the will of the People

Last night, amid the daily drama of the Brexit debates, I asked the Speaker, John Bercow, a simple question: does the Will of the House of Commons trump the Will of the People? The Speaker answered politely but was uncommitted. This question is now at the heart of Parliament’s debate over Brexit; who rules and for what purpose? Members of Parliament make laws, putting into practice their political manifestos. We do so on behalf of the people we represent. Shorn of our moral mandate to enact the business of our constituents, we are nothing but tin-pot bullies. During yesterday night’s debate, Remain supporting MP after MP declared that the House overturning Government decisions fundamentally changed the nature of the debate. It was as if the 2016 mandate of the British people could be dissolved on a Parliamentary whim. And yet that is what is now appearing to happen. Theresa May and her team have not handled this as well as they might. Some might consider this an understatement. However, to their great credit they are trying to enact the will of the people. Theresa and her Government are at least trying to speak for those millions of Britons who wanted to leave the EU. – Bob Seely MP for the Telegraph (£)

Theo Barclay: MPs who think delaying Brexit is the easy way out of their dilemma couldn’t be more wrong

Unable to reach agreement on any Brexit deal after two years of savage debate, Britain’s MPs are now choosing to take what looks like the easiest option – going back to Brussels to beg for an extension to the negotiating period. The various Brexit factions want an extension for different reasons. The Prime Minister seeks a short amount of time to force her deal through parliament. Brexiteer backbenchers want two more months to put in place the nebulous and rejected “Malthouse compromise”. Remainers are desperately seeking time to push for a second referendum. Jeremy Corbyn’s objective remains to avoid taking a position on an extension – he wants, as ever, to be present but not involved. All agree that an extension request is the culmination of a shameful failure of statecraft. But an extension – far from being the easy way out they all seem to see it as –  could make matters far worse. A short extension solves nothing and creates its own problems. As the House of Commons decisively rejected a no-deal outcome on Wednesday, the 27 member states of the EU can now demand pretty much any concession in return for giving MPs breathing space. The Brexit bill, the status of Gibraltar, the customs union and controls on migration would all be back up for grabs. The benefits of the Prime Minister’s deal could end up being needlessly sacrificed in return for nothing of value. – Theo Barclay for the Telegraph (£)

The Sun: Tory Brexiteers defeating Theresa May’s Brexit deal again is a disastrous act of self-harm

It is surely now obvious to Tory Brexiteers that defeating Theresa May’s deal again will be a disastrous act of self-harm. Some are waking up to it. Too many are holding out for something better. It’s not coming. Mrs May’s shock victories last night leave her battered agreement as still somehow the only viable option, even if she has been humiliatingly reduced to asking the EU for a short delay. Kill it again next week and that’s it. The PM will be ordered to beg a long delay, swallowing any conditions Brussels wants to impose. Remainer MPs will take back control, as they failed to do last night by only two votes, and Tory support will collapse. Brexiteers should listen to Donald Trump dangling the carrot of a UK-US trade deal of “unlimited” scope. It is only even remotely possible under May’s deal. Remainers will prevent No Deal. Corbyn, meanwhile, plumbed pitiful new depths of dishonesty last night. Having helped send the “people’s vote” crashing to a deserved defeat — to avoid offending his Leave voters — he absurdly reaffirmed his support for it to avoid offending Labour Remainers. – The Sun

 

Brexit in Brief

  • Lumping all Leavers together does political debate no favours – Ben Gartside for The Times (£)
  • Where do the other members of the EU stand on the question of an Article 50 delay? – Anna Nadibaidze for ConservativeHome
  • Wishing Brexit was over? If we leave on time, life will return to normal sooner than you think – Tom Harris for the Telegraph (£)
  • How the EU infantilises national politics – Tim Parks for UnHerd
  • Britain’s soft power after Brexit – Joel Casement for Comment Central
  • DUP’s Arlene Foster declares party is ‘working hard’ to seek deal with Theresa May – The Sun
  • Vince Cable to step down as Liberal Democrats’ leader after local elections in May – Independent