On Tuesday, Prime Minister Theresa May will return to the House of Commons to kick off a debate on the next steps following the overwhelming defeat of her Brexit deal earlier this month.
Her new motion has seen a flurry of proposed amendments by multiple backbench and frontbench MPs of various parties in a bid to force a change of direction in the government’s policy, with the more prominent efforts aimed at averting a ‘no deal’ outcome.
Labour amendments -
The core amendment from the opposition benches is pushing the government to rule out a ‘no deal’ scenario entirely and allow Parliament to vote on a number of options including an alternate Brexit deal that includes a permanent customs union (which Labour has backed as part of its own Brexit policy), and the possibility of a public vote on a deal or any other proposition MPs support for a plebiscite.
If the amendment was selected for debate by the Speaker of the Commons, it would also open up a can of worms for MPs to vote on other proposals from various opposition members, some of which alter the amendment itself to include or exclude various points.
Some of these involve backing a re-run of the 2016 in/out referendum or at least a public vote on the deal itself.
Potential impact: Could embolden other MPs to explicitly oppose no deal but could also aggravate Labour’s own split between pro-second vote MPs and the more Eurosceptic leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
Perhaps the most high-profile amendment of the bunch, the motion proposed by former shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper is essentially looking to delay Brexit until a deal is agreed with the EU, averting a no deal exit on 29 March.
The amendment proposes time for Parliament to pass a new law that would require the PM to seek a postponement of the leave date until 31 December if her deal is refused at a vote on 26 February, requiring a request to extend the Article 50 exit mechanism from the EU.
This amendment has garnered cross-party support from various Tory backbenchers, including pro-EU MPs Nicky Morgan and Oliver Letwin as well as Lib Dem health minister Norma Lamb and Plaid’s Ben Lake.
Potential impact: A little more serious for the government as Cooper’s bill, if passed, would create a legal obligation on the government as opposed to the other amendments. If this happens, there is chance for a Brexit delay.
Labour MP Stella Creasy has proposed getting the government to postpone Brexit day for an unspecified period and create a 250-member ‘Citizen’s Assembly’ to allow more public say on the Brexit process.
This would contain a representative sample of the population, supported by an advisory group of experts, that would make recommendations after a 10-week consideration period.
Potential impact: Brexit delay a little more likely but then the UK would enter a somewhat undefined process of setting up a citizen’s assembly, with all the wrangling entailed in figuring out what a “representative sample” is.
Like the Creasy amendment, but this merely seeks to suspend Brexit day with no time period.
Potential impact: Could delay Brexit … that’s all really.
Put forward by former shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, the amendment calls for a series of “indicative votes” to signal MPs support for various Brexit options.
These range from a new vote on the PM’s current deal, a ‘no deal’ exit, a renegotiation of the deal, and a second Brexit referendum.
Potential impact: Could potentially be a useful gauge of Parliamentary opinion on Brexit and what kind of deal would make it through the house, although nothing of any solid substance in terms of policy.
Conservative amendments -
A key pro-European Tory and thorn in the side of the government, Dominic Grieve has proposed an amendment that essentially forces a debate on multiple alternatives to the PM's Brexit deal for six full days before 26 March.
Backed by MPs from the Scottish National Party (SNP), the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and Plaid Cymru, as well as some Labour backbenchers, the six-day debate would conclude with MPs voting on any amendments tabled during the period.
These could include anything from a second Brexit referendum, the ‘Norway’ option which would move the UK toward membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), or even a no deal exit.
Potential impact: Likely to open the floodgates to amendments on the deal and potentially result in a delay to Brexit if the wrangling fails to secure a precise outcome supported by Parliament.
Another Tory MP Andrew Murrison has submitted a group of amendments aiming to win around opponents of the so-called ‘Irish backstop’, a fall-back option to avoid a hard border between Brexiting Northern Ireland and the EU member Republic.
Murrison’s amendment proposes that the PM’s deal "insists on an expiry date to the backstop", essentially assuaging fears that it would continue indefinitely with Northern Ireland stuck in a separate customs regime to the rest of the UK.
The backstop has garnered fierce opposition from both pro-Brexit Tories and the 10 MPs from the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who are vital to propping up Theresa May’s majority in the Commons.
While the amendment is preferred by the DUP, the Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney has already poured cold water on the proposal, saying the EU would never agree to a definitive end date to the backstop.
Potential impact: Would probably cause more headaches for the PM as the EU has already said it will not renegotiate the backstop (in public at least), cue more negotiations.
Speaking of the backstop, John Baron MP has submitted three amendments to the motion that aim to stop the UK being constrained by EU customs laws for an extended period.
The amendments range from limiting a backstop to six months, calling for the UK to have a right to exit any backstop unilaterally, and avoiding an agreement that would tie any area of the UK to EU customs rules until a formal trade deal is in place.
Potential impact: Similar to Murrison's amendments as it is predicated on the EU agreeing to the changes to the backstop.
Rounding off the main Tory amendments is one from Graham Brady, the chair of the influential 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs.
In a short and sweet proposal, Brady’s amendment calls for the backstop to be replaced with “alternative arrangements” that would also avoid a hard border with Ireland (although it doesn’t go into depth about what these might be).
Potential impact: A little vague to be certain as no one is sure what the “alternative arrangements” will be, although it will almost certainly involve more negotiations and a possible delay of Brexit.
Other parties’ amendments -
Liberal Democrat amendment:
The pro-EU Lib Dems have tabled a proposal to rule out no deal and push for a second public vote with the option to remain in the EU on the ballot paper.
Potential impact: The Lib Dems are the most pro-Remain party, but they have little clout for a rerun of the 2016 vote even if many other MPs are sympathetic to their cause.
Lib Dem MP Tom Brake has tabled an amendment to create a cross-party committee that would take charge of the Brexit process, deciding when parliamentary time is made available for Brexit debates and legislation.
Potential impact: Similar to the citizen’s assembly idea, it may take power away from the government but is unlikely to resolve the ideological gridlock in a meaningful way.
Tabled by the Tory MP Caroline Spelman and Labour MP Jack Dromey, this amendment is trying to block no deal by adding an explicit rejection of no deal to the PM’s motion.
Potential impact: Not much. There is already a Brexit deal on the table so the motion boils down to ‘no no-deal’ along with various others.
In terms of the wider impact on markets, these motions will probably have little, immediate effect as they are all non-binding on government policy.
Therefore, unless the Cooper amendment becomes law, Theresa May could simply reject all the amendments and continue hammering away at her own deal.
For markets, the reactions could be familiar, anything that increases the likelihood of no deal will probably cause a dip in the value of the pound, while if there are moves toward a softer Brexit, the opposite may happen.
The value of the pound has risen about 2.2% since the deal was first voted down on 15 January as the prospect of a softer outcome increased, so it’s not unreasonable to expect more of the same.