Following May’s historic defeat on 15 January 2019, with 432 – 202 MPs voting against the Brexit withdrawal agreement Theresa May negotiated with the EU, she was given a further 2 weeks to present Plan B for a government vote. The options for Mrs May’s government included no deal, a second referendum and renegotiation of proposed Brexit terms among others.

Although May survived a vote of no confidence brought against her by her own government earlier this year, a second vote of no confidence was put forward on 16 January 2019 against May’s government by Corbyn, which she again won with a vote of 325 to 306 votes: keeping her in power by just 19 votes.

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May’s winning two votes of no confidence this year suggests a general election is unlikely, as she seems determined to see Brexit through to the bitter end. For better or for worse remains to be seen.

On 29 January 2019, just two months before the UK is due to leave the EU, May came back with her Plan B for Brexit, including amendments to the withdrawal agreement previously negotiated, in the hopes that there would be sufficient changes for a vote in favour the second time around.

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Although many were hoping Plan B would involve some revolutionary amendments to the proposed agreement, critics were underwhelmed at the changes proposed, with arguments that Plan B too closely resembled the agreement put forward on 15 January.

The amendments to the withdrawal agreement were put forward by various members of parliament and selected by Speaker John Bercow for debate on 29 January.

Amendment One (A): Corbyn

Put forward by Labour frontbencher Jeremy Corbyn, Amendment (A) requests government “secure sufficient time” to vote on ways of avoiding a no-deal Brexit and pushes for no-deal options to be taken off the table entirely.

Some of the suggestions put forward in this amendment included a Brexit plan which included permanent membership of the customs union and “a strong relationship with the single market” as well as “dynamic alignment” with the EU regarding contested areas such as environmental and workers’ rights.

This amendment also included an option for a second referendum. Although Corbyn himself has been reluctant to publicly support a second referendum, this would allow “a public vote on a deal or a proposition that has commanded the support of the majority of the House of Commons”: giving the public a say in any final agreements.

This was rejected at parliament, with 296 votes for and 327 against.

Amendment Two (B): Cooper

Backed by Labour, MP Yvette Cooper’s amendment involves a vote to delay Article 50 if a Brexit deal isn’t passed through Commons by 26 February. Similar to the Corbyn amendment, this Bill hopes to avoid a no-deal Brexit outcome by extending the deadline for the UK to negotiate more favourable divorce terms with the EU.

This proposal was also voted down on 29 January with 298 votes in favour and 321 against.

Amendment Three (G): Grieve

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve’s proposal suggests allowing MPs six days worth of debates to allow backbench MPs to set the Commons agenda.

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This would allow backbenchers to test support for amendments and alternatives to the proposed Brexit deal. Although this amendment doesn’t specifically involve a delay to Article 50, it still lost by 301 votes in favour vs 321 against, however, this may have been influenced by May’s pledge to allow another vote by 14 February to look again at whether a no-deal Brexit can be avoided.

Amendment Four (I): Spelman

Coming from former environmental secretary Caroline Spelman was an amendment to express overriding objections to a no-deal Brexit outcome.

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“This house rejects the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for the future relationship”. This amendment doesn’t legally bind the government to avoid a no-deal Brexit but does make it clear that this is not desirable for the UK and was approved with a vote of 318 in favour and 310 against.

Amendment Five (J): Reeves

The next amendment comes from the Business Select Committee chair Rachel Reeves, pushing May to extend Article 50 and postponing Brexit if an agreement cannot be reached by 26 February. This concurs with Dominic Grieve’s and Yvette Cooper’s amendments suggesting an extension may be necessary to secure a beneficial deal post-Brexit. Although this tweak had a variety of cross-party support, it was still rejected by a vote of 290 to 322.

Mrs May commented that this proposal could weaken her position in Brexit negotiations with the EU and would be “simply deferring the point of decision” rather than offering any valuable revision.

Amendment Six (N): Murrison/Brady

Tabled by Conservative backbencher and Northern Ireland Committee chairman Andrew Murrison alongside senior Conservative backbencher Sir Graham Brady, this amendment focuses on the hugely contested Irish Backstop “to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”. Also seeking to avoid a hard or no-deal Brexit, this amendment was passed on 29 January with 317 votes in favour and 301 against despite leading Brexiters dismissing these amendments as being too vague and a suggestion that the EU will not agree to renegotiate on the backstop.

Amendment Seven (O): Blackford

This amendment was put forward by the SNP and Plaid Cymru to once again request an extension to Article 50 and rule out a no-deal Brexit. The leaders of these two parties highlighted that Scotland and Welsh parties “voted overwhelmingly to reject the Prime Minister’s deal” and that the Scottish 62% Remain vote should be taken into account during negotiations.

This amendment only received 39 votes in favour.

Outcome

In summary, following the debate on 29 January 2019, it’s looking like any proposition to delay Brexit or extend Article 50 has been overwhelmingly rejected, with the biggest amendment to receive support being a rejection of the Irish Backstop agreement.

The next step is for Mrs May is to return to Brussels to attempt to renegotiate the terms of the withdrawal agreement, taking into account the recent amendment requests.

This still won’t be straightforward, however, as EU leaders have made it quite clear that they are unwilling to renegotiate at this stage, and have claimed the UK to be an unreasonable and unreliable negotiator over the course of the last few years. This is likely to cause issues if we want to negotiate more favourable terms without risking a no-deal outcome and will take a lot of discussion in order to reach an agreement everyone is happy with.

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