Today was a busy day of parliamentary debate on Brexit. So what was the upshot?
Theresa May heads back to Brussels
This afternoon the UK Prime Minister Theresa May performed a U-turn and agreed that she should seek a change to the Withdrawal Agreement she had previously agreed with the EU in November. Tonight a majority of MPs in Parliament supported her and she will now seek to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement terms on the Northern Ireland backstop. (NB click here for a Brexit jargon buster).
This may be a short-lived or unsuccessful negotiation: Donald Tusk the President of the EU immediately said tonight “the backstop is part of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for re-negotiation’. This may in turn lead to another defeat for the Prime Minister in parliament in a couple of weeks: the ERG group of Conservative MPs (harder brexiteers who backed her today) have made clear that unless Theresa May secures significant changes from the EU, then they will vote against her again.
Unless the EU now performs a U-turn of their own, we look to be heading for a No Deal Brexit. It seems a slim chance the EU will give way; and if they do, they may well exact a price for it.
MPs say they don’t want No Deal but fail to agree anything that will stop No Deal
A majority of MPs also supported a (non-binding) motion that said they do not want a No Deal Brexit. At the same time, MPs voted against one way of stopping a No Deal: an option to extend article 50 (and delay Brexit) was voted down. A proposal for Parliament to take more control of the negotiations and to hold a series of debates and votes on alternatives to the current Brexit Deal was also rejected.
What happens next?
Theresa May will now try to negotiate changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, seeking a time limit on the Northern Ireland backstop. She will try to appeal to individual EU heads of state like Angela Merkel to change their position – something that did not work when she tried it in December.
Theresa May has promised a further vote in Parliament on or before 13 February – either on any new agreement she has reached with the EU or on next steps if no progress has been made. By then we will have just 6 weeks before Brexit Day on 29 March.
We will have yet more debate and votes in parliament over the coming weeks.
Here is a flow chart (courtesy of my colleague Tom Rathborn) of what may happen next:-
What does this mean?
Despite a majority of MPs against No Deal, a No Deal Brexit looks even more likely than ever.
Unless anything is agreed in Parliament and with the EU, in 8 weeks the UK will leave the EU with No Deal.
The EU may well refuse to re-open the Withdrawal Agreement. MPs may be opposed to No Deal but to stop it they have to vote in favour of something.
Whatever happens, this will go down to the wire. We may not know what will happen until very close to 29 March.
As always, my advice is to plan for all eventualities and above all make sure you are prepared for No Deal.
Despite a majority of MPs against No Deal, a No Deal Brexit looks even more likely than ever. Unless anything is agreed in Parliament and with the EU, in 8 weeks the UK will leave the EU with No Deal. As always, my advice is to plan for all eventualities.