Bryant amendment pulled, MPs head for main motion vote
Chris Bryant had tabled an amendment seeking to block the government’s attempt to bring its withdrawal agreement back for a further vote next week. He argued that parliament should not be forced to vote on the same thing more than once. It has already rejected the deal twice.
However, he chose not to move his amendment to a vote at the last minute. Instead MPs are now voting on the government’s main, unamended motion. It sets up an extension of the Article 50 process beyond March 29 – either a short one if the deal is passed next week, or a long one if it doesn’t.
The government is giving MPs a free vote on the main motion.
Labour amendment rejected 302 to 318
The amendment would have sought an extension of Article 50 to avoid no-deal on 29 March and to provide parliamentary time to find a majority for a different approach.
Tory MP support for Benn
The FT’s Seb Payne says 16 Tories voted against the government and for the Benn amendment:
– Guto Bebb
– Richard Benyon
– Nick Boles
– Ken Clarke
– Jonathan Djanogly
– George Freeman
– Justine Greening
– Dominic Grieve
– Sam Gyimah
– Rob Halfon
– Philip Lee
– Oliver Letwin
– Antoinette Sandbach
– Nick Soames
– John Stevenson
– Ed Vaizey
Six Labour MPs went against the Benn amendment:
– Kevin Barron
– Ronnie Campbell
– Stephen Hepburn
– Kate Hoey
– John Mann
– Graham Stringer
Voting starts on Labour amendment E
Labour has put forward an amendment calling for a ‘different approach’ – an unspecified delay to the UK’s exit from the EU to give time for parliament to find a majority for a different approach to Brexit. In practice, Labour hopes that this mean their Brexit plan.
Victory for May paves way for clean vote on extension
The government has notched up a rare parliamentary victory on its Brexit agenda in defeating the Benn amendment by the narrowest of margins.
The other two amendments tonight are both expected to be defeated with relative ease.
The main motion should then be voted on unchanged. It means May’s plan to put her deal back to the Commons next week, and then ask the EU for an extension to Article 50 – either short or lengthy – remains on track.
Correction: We previously said the main motion would be whipped for by the government. It will instead be a free vote.
Narrow defeat for indicative votes
There will be a lot of scrutiny on whether any Remain-supporting ministers abstained on the Benn amendment – which would mean they once again ignored the government’s three-line whip and raising the prospect of resignations or sackings after last night’s rebellion.
Benn amendment defeated by 312 to 314
MPs have voted not to take control of the Brexit process and hold indicative votes on possible ways forward next Wednesday. The government had whipped against.
Here’s our summary of the Benn amendment from earlier:
Labour’s Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper, and the Conservative Oliver Letwin, have proposed a series of indicative votes that would allow MPs to rank their favoured Brexit options. This would provide the most reliable test so far of what form of Brexit the Commons really wants.
Options would almost certainly include: Mrs May’s deal plus a permanent customs union; membership of the single market and customs union; and a second EU referendum. Much will depend on how the voting system works, given that no option is expected to win a majority in the first round.
Mr Benn’s amendment would allow the debate on different options to start next Wednesday, March 20. Mrs May could try to pre-empt it by putting her Brexit deal to the vote again on Tuesday.
MPs vote on Benn amendment seeking indicative votes
Defeat of the Powell amendment could mean a couple of things. Either MPs don’t want their efforts to find an alternative way forward locked into a tight time schedule, or they don’t support the Benn amendment anyway. We’ll find out shortly.
The government earlier offered MPs the chance for indicative votes, but not until April and only if the May deal if defeated next week.
Powell amendment loses by 3 votes
The amendment to the Benn amendment has been very narrowly defeated 311-314.
EU holds firm
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has called for Europe to show “patience and calm” as Westminster debates how and when to leave the bloc, writes the FT’s Brussels chief Alex Barker.
Speaking at an event in Bucharest, Michel Barnier said that the draft withdrawal agreement was the “only one available” that would allow Britain to leave the EU in an “orderly fashion”.
“What we want is not a negative vote against no deal,” he said, referring to recent motions backed by the House of Commons. “What we want is a positive, constructive vote.”
Mr Barnier sidestepped the issue of whether the EU should approve a request to delay Britain’s March 29 exit day, however, saying that was the responsibility of the leaders of the 27 remaining member state.
MPs vote on amendment to next amendment
Lucy Powell has put down an amendment to Hilary Benn’s amendment (which will be voted on straight after). It seeks to insert a specific end date to the Brexit process extension required for Benn’s amendment – the crux of which is enabling indicative votes next week.
As far as we can tell, the addition of a deadline to the main amendment is likely a signal that it would not result in Brexit being delayed indefinitely.
Second referendum amendment rejected 85 to 334
MPs have voted against amendment H – the call for a second referendum put forward by Independent Group MP Sarah Wollaston – by 85 to 334 in spite of it being the first time that politicians have been able to vote for a return to the public this year.
However, it would have cancelled out both the Benn amendment and the Labour amendment, so was expected to fail.
Little support for referendum amendment
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran has posted this pic of the voting lobby for those supporting amendment H. It’s fair to say things look a bit quiet.
Second referendum amendment looks ‘certain to fail’
Sarah Wollaston’s second referendum amendment looks certain to fail, says the FT’s Henry Mance.
Independent Group MPs, who doubt that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is sincerely committed to a second referendum, want to use the amendment to make Labour “feel the heat”.
They say that the final straw was shadow education secretary Angela Rayner describing a second referendum as “disastrous” on ITV on Wednesday night.
Both Labour and the People’s Vote, the campaign group, argue that Thursday is not the time to push a parliamentary vote on a second referendum. Labour is advising its MPs to abstain on the amendment.
MPs to vote first on amendment H
MPs have gone out to vote on Sarah Wollaston’s amendment to push for a second referendum. Results expected in 15 minutes.
Debate drawing to a close, votes imminent
Stephen Barclay, UK Brexit secretary is up on his feet, which means time is nearly up. He’s wrapping up the debate for the government ahead of the actual votes.
What’s about to happen in parliament?
MPs will start voting at about 5pm, first on the four amendments selected by the speaker, then on the main motion put down by the government.
They’ll start with a vote on whether to hold a second referendum. It looks doomed – it lacks support from Labour, and even the People’s Vote campaign think the timing is wrong.
Then they will vote on the Benn amendment, which effectively takes control of the Brexit process away from the government and sets up indicative votes on possible ways forward. This is the one to watch, and could be a close call. To make matters even more complex, this amendment may also be amended, to give a specific June end date to the Brexit delay.
After that, assuming the other two fail, a Labour amendment calling for a delay to Brexit and time to debate alternatives. It is likely to fail, and the government has argued it is already proposing a delay and opening up time to discuss other options anyway.
Then MPs can vote to prevent a third meaningful vote on May’s deal, based on the argument that parliament should not be made to vote on the same thing more than once. It has already voted on the deal twice, and no major changes are expected before next week’s planned vote. But this too is expected to fail.
Finally, once the amendments are out of the way, the main motion will come to a vote. It calls for a short delay to Brexit if May’s deal passes next week, and proposes a much longer one if it fails. If left unamended, this should – in theory – sail through.
You can read a much fuller summary of tonight’s amendments here.
Irish support for extension
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s minister for foreign affairs, said a Brexit extension of 21 months was a possibility.
He told Irish broadcaster RTE that a long extension would give the UK a “long reflection period” about the kind of Brexit it wants, but a “crash-out” could happen by accident.
Whipping plans for this evening
After last night’s chaotic whipping operation, the government is keeping it simple tonight: it’ll whip against all the amendments. If any amendments pass, it’ll whip against the motion.
Labour will whip to abstain on amendment H calling for a second referendum. But it will whip for all the other amendments, including the indicative votes proposal from the cross-bench gang of MPs including Yvette Cooper, Oliver Letwin, Nick Boles and Hilary Benn.
Wollaston urges support for second referendum
Sarah Wollaston has drawn some criticism from the “people’s vote” campaign and fellow MPs backing a second referendum for pushing her amendment tonight that calls for another plebiscite. They’d like her to wait.
However, she says that patience is running out. Tonight’s amendment may fail, but there’s nothing to stop her bringing it back again next week, she says.
“This is the time for vote for it today,” she says.
She then turns her attention to the Labour frontbench, saying that it will never embrace another vote unless there is serious pressure from within the party. She calls on Labour MPs to back her motion. She is likely to be disappointed.
Order of play for the votes tonight
The FT’s Henry Mance says the order of votes is likely to be (from 5pm):
H – Wollaston/ second referendum
I – Benn/ indicative votes (plus Powell amendment to Benn)
E – Corbyn/ alternative Labour Brexit
J – Chris Bryant/ ruling out another meaningful vote
If Benn’s passes, Corbyn’s amendment falls.
And then main motion, as amended.
Trump surprised ‘how badly’ Brexit is going
Donald Trump is hosting Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar in Washington today. As they sat down for photos in the Oval Office, the US president had a couple of things to say on Brexit. Here’s the report from AP:
President Donald Trump says the ongoing debate in Britain over leaving the European Union is “tearing the country apart.”
Trump says he’s “surprised at how badly” it’s been handled and that he thinks an agreement to leave the EU could have been negotiated better. Trump, who sees himself as a master deal-maker, says he gave advice to British Prime Minister Theresa May but that she didn’t listen to him.
ERG explores possible change to legal advice on May’s deal
The European Research Group of MPs is examining whether Geoffrey Cox could change the group’s stance on supporting Theresa May’s Brexit deal, reports the FT’s Seb Payne.
The attorney-general has been in discussions with Eurosceptic MPs about whether Article 62 of the Vienna Convention could provide a route out of the Irish border backstop.
The ERG has assembled its own panel of lawyers – including former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab and Westminster leader of the Democratic Unionist party Nigel Dodds – which ruled against supporting Mrs May’s deal earlier this week. The lawyers are meeting over the next few days to decide whether there is any merit in this proposal.
Mark Francois, vice-chairman of the ERG, told the FT:
“There is some debate about the interpretation of the finer points of the Vienna Convention on the law of treaties. Because this is a highly complex legal argument, we have referred it to the ‘star chamber’ of expert lawyers to examine whether or not this point has merit. The star chamber have begun work, but are also busy with the debate today. So they will examine the question over the weekend and we will hope to have a verdict by Monday if not before.”
This idea, however, may go nowhere. Martin Howe QC, a prominent lawyer who sits on the ERG’s group of lawyers, told my colleague James Blitz that the Vienna Convention proposal is “a non-starter”.
But if the government has any hope of winning support from Eurosceptic MPs, it must bring the DUP’s 10 MPs on board with the deal. And to get them on board requires convincing the ERG’s star chamber. It does not look to be an easy task.
What’s next on the Brexit timetable?
The prime minister is preparing one more push to get her agreement through the Commons before a crucial EU summit on March 21-22.
The FT’s James Blitz, Henry Mance and Alex Barker have updated our rolling guide to the next stages of Brexit. Read it in full here.
The main dates are:
March 14 – decision on delaying Brexit until June 30
March 19 – likely date for a third so-called meaningful vote on the prime minister’s deal
March 20 – indicative votes by MPs on what form an alternative Brexit deal to the prime minister’s should take
March 21 to 22 – summit where EU leaders decide what kind of Article 50 extension Britain should get, if any
Some support for Mrs May
The prime minister has not exactly enjoyed huge support for her Brexit plan, but one front-bencher is at least reiterating her backing.
Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd says on Twitter that she will continue to vote for Mrs May’s agreement. In a letter, she also takes a swipe at “colleagues” for potentially delaying Brexit.
“If Brexit is unfortunately delayed after today’s votes, it is because many of my colleagues in the Commons have refused to join those of us who have consistently voted for the Prime Minister’s good deal,” Ms Rudd writes.
Brexit Briefing: the EU’s next move
Our daily newsletter on Brexit should be in your inbox now. If not, sign up here.
Today, Tony Barber looks at the debate among EU members on how it should respond to the latest shenanigans in London.
Some want the shortest possible delay, or none at all, for fear that the Brexit controversy will contaminate the EU election campaign, stir up nationalism and lift support for Eurosceptical, nativist critics of Brussels.
Others, such as Peter Altmaier, Germany’s economy minister and a close adviser to Chancellor Angela Merkel, favour a measured approach. “We urgently need clarity . . . but we will not get this by always criticising our British friends and partners from a high moral standpoint,” he said on Thursday.
With it being a busy week for all things Brexit, we also had another Brexit Briefing this morning, in which James Blitz explained what is going to happen next week: May’s last throw of the dice.
One of two things will happen. Either the vote passes, in which case she goes to the European Council on Thursday and asks for a short Article 50 extension up to the European elections on May 23. That would give her government enough time to enact the necessary UK domestic legislation to take Britain out of the EU before the elections.
Or she will lose the meaningful vote again. In which case she will go to Brussels to ask for a long extension of about two years, making clear that the UK now wants to rethink its entire approach to Brexit (under another prime minister, one assumes).
Labour’s mixed messages
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw accuses his own party of “mixed messages” on whether or not it backs a second referendum.
Sir Keir responds that “today is about extension” but that Labour is “supporting a public vote on any deal that gets through by the prime minister”.
DUP ‘working hard’ on a deal
Theresa May’s attempts to rescue her ailing Brexit deal appear to have been given a boost by Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist party, reports the FT’s Laura Hughes.
Speaking to the BBC in Washington, she said:
“Brexit is two weeks away, as I’ve constantly said, when you come to end of a negotiation that’s when you really start to see the whites in people’s eyes and you get down to the point where you can make a deal.”
She also confirmed that party representatives are in conversation with the government today.
“We are working very hard with the government to get a deal so we leave the EU with a deal.”
Starmer restates Labour’s position.
The opposition party had been creeping towards a “people’s vote”. But he says “today is about extending Article 50 and moving on from there”.
Labour won’t back second referendum tonight
Keir Starmer is asked by Anna Soubry, a former Tory, whether Labour will now back the amendment calling for a second referendum.
He refers to the splits detailed below, saying even the People’s Vote campaign feels that today is the wrong time to push the issue. He even quotes Alastair Campbell.
It looks like Labour will not be backing amendment H.
Ms Soubry shouts “shame on you” in response.
Splits over second referendum amendment
MPs will get to vote today on whether to hold a second referendum, thanks to an amendment put forward by former Tory Sarah Wollaston, now of the Independent Group.
However, there appears to be some difference of opinion among those advocating another public vote over whether now is the time to push the issue.
Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor and a vocal supporter of the so-called People’s Vote campaign, said on Twitter that the timing was wrong:
Wrong to press @peoplesvote_uk amendment today when the issue is extension. I think wrong time and I fear the wrong reasons. Any doubts about that confirmed by @CarolineFlintMP support. PV is possible solution to current crisis not option within it. More PV opportunities ahead
And the Guardian’s Jessica Elgot reports that Phil Wilson, Labour MP and prominent second referendum backer, plans to abstain on the amendment vote today. His plan is to instead put down an amendment calling for Mrs May’s deal to be passed but then put to a referendum.
The opposition’s Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer is now up.
He starts off by criticising Theresa May’s strategy of bringing back her deal to parliament for a third time.
“A simple motion today seeking a mandate from this house to ask for an extension of Article 50,” he says, would pass by a “hefty majority”.
He calls Mrs May’s third meaningful vote “an act of desperation”.
He concludes by rejecting the Labour party amendment – which is asking for an extension but a different Brexit deal – saying that the opposition Brexit plan was decisively rejected in the debate of February 27 and there was no need to further discuss it. Then he sits for the MP debate.
Lidington responds to amendments
The MP rules out backing the amendment for another referendum – it would damage the already pretty fragile trust with the public, he says.
He also rejects the amendment designed to take control by parliament over the Brexit process, saying that it is a misguided and irresponsible course of action. He talks at length about why it was an undemocratic move as it could give the small parties in the Commons a veto
Lidington: we cannot operate in a vacuum
David Lidington explains that while the prime minister is committed to seeking an extension of Article 50 if one is needed, this “would have to provide for the duration and any purpose and any condition of extension that had been agreed with the European Council. We cannot operate in a vacuum. We are dealing with a process that flows from Article 50 of the treaty.”
He then bangs the table some more.
Then he says there is incredible frustration within Europe at the failure of the House of Commons to get on with Brexit.
If this House has not come together by Thursday next week, the only viable extension would be a long one.
The only certainty would be greater uncertainty for businesses and for the constituencies we represent.
Lidington bangs the table
Frustrated, much? In response to a question about whether the house would lose public trust if it did not get on with Brexit, Mr Lidington bangs the back of his hand on the table in front of him, saying:
The remedy for the house is to rally behind an actual deal that allows our exit from the European Union to take place.
He thwacks the table after every word of this sentence.
Anna Soubry: we have been promised an extension
The MP and member of the breakaway Independent Group reminds Mr Lidington that the prime minister said on February 26 that if relevant amendments succeed, the Brexit date will be extended.
‘The only way forward’
Mr Lidington says there is no way forward apart from the house “to come behind an actual deal embodied in text which the EU is also willing to accept.”
He adds that he does not detect that much enthusiasm in Strasbourg for another group of British MEPs to be there.
Those European elections
This will annoy some Brexiters. Mr Lidington has confirmed that if the UK wants to delay Brexit beyond the May European elections, Britain will have to take part in them.
Lidington: delay only once
Mr Lidington repeated the government’s position that it would only be able to seek an extension to Article 50 once – whether a short technical delay or a longer one. The government would not seek a second extension, he insisted.
That sounds like the kind of position which could change further down the line, Jim Pickard writes.
He added that it would be possible for the UK to leave before any agreed deadline with the EU. But the longest extension that could be proposed without participating in the elections would be the end of June, and after that it would not be possible to extend again.
Indicative votes proposed by government
David Lidington has announced indicative votes on Brexit after the European Council meeting next week if the meaningful vote is rejected, writes Jim Pickard.
Mr Lidington, Theresa May’s de facto deputy, said that in that scenario there would be a process “in the two weeks after the March council” to allow the house to seek a majority on the way forward. “We should be clear about the consequences if that was to happen.”
He says MPs have a stark choice between two options: either approve Mrs May’s deal by March 20, “then we can expect EU would agree a short technical extension”, or face a long extension. Under this case, the government would need to prepare for the European Parliament elections in May.
UK signs trade deals with the Pacific Islands
We aren’t sure how significant this is, but trade secretary Liam Fox has just announced new deals with Papua New Guinea and Fiji…
Mr Fox says: I am delighted.
Jim Pickard points out that the trade secretary needs to produce more than 30 new trade deals in the next fortnight to replace the 40 existing deals the UK enjoys through EU membership.
According to the high commission of Papua New Guinea in London, PNG buys goods from Britain including canned meat (luncheon meat is popular there), alcohol, pharmaceutical products and machinery.
Image courtesy of the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority
Lidington: difficult choices
The MP says that government never wanted to extend Article 50, and that it had struck a good deal. But the house has rejected that deal, which has brought the votes today.
The UK needs to put a proposal before the EU before they meet next week, he says, which means “difficult choices”, and in particular understanding the Article 50 process and the elections in Europe in May.
Delayed delay debate finally opens
Tory MP and de facto deputy prime minister David Lidington rises to open the debate and set out the government’s case to extend Brexit.
Rees-Mogg: amendment selection process is ‘unclear’
The Brexiters are now up in force to complain about amendments.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Eurosceptic backbencher, is now questioning John Bercow over how he chooses amendments, calling the process unclear.
Mr Bercow says he is comfortable that a perfectly good selection has been made. He says Mr Rees-Mogg’s view is not “definitive so far as the choice today is concerned. If more widely he thinks that a manual on this matter for the future would be of use,” Mr Bercow says, he would happily discuss it with Mr Rees-Mogg over a “cup, or mug, of traditional tea”.
Charlie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover, then rises to make a point similar to that of Mr Rees-Mogg’s.
Members of the ERG are furious that John Bercow has not picked their amendment, writes Jim Pickard.
Bernard Jenkin, a veteran Eurosceptic, questions the Speaker’s impartiality: “What are we to conclude of your own views on these matters?”
Mr Bercow tries to calm down the house in the face of repeated points of order from the floor.
The cost of a public vote?
Anne Main, a Brexiter and Conservative MP for St Albans, now asks about the cost of a public vote.
Mr Bercow says that is a “matter that will be extracted in the course of debate”.
Tory anger over Bercow choices
John Bercow’s picks for the amendments for tonight’s voting have caused some anger. Mark Francois, a prominent Eurosceptic Tory MP, expresses discontent that the Speaker has not selected a motion to rule out a second referendum, signed by 127 MPs.
Mr Bercow replies: “Members do have to take the rough with the smooth.”
The amendment that could change the course of Brexit
Another amendment, another cunning plan to change the course of Brexit, the FT’s Sebastian Payne writes.
Seven MPs are planning to amend tonight’s vote on extending Article 50 to pave the way for a series of indicative votes on alternative forms of Brexit.
Led by Conservative grandee Oliver Letwin and Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn, this amendment would firmly take control of the process away from Theresa May.
Under the terms of the amendment, the rules of the House of Commons would be suspended next Wednesday afternoon to allow non-government business to take precedence. It would then allow for a series of motions to be debated on alternative forms of Brexit, as long as they are supported by at least 25 MPs – including from at least five parties.
This would likely include a permanent customs union with the EU, continued membership of the single market and a second referendum. It is the first of these that will most likely find a comfortable Commons majority.
The success of this amendment may play into Theresa May’s hands. If she holds a third meaningful vote on her Brexit deal on Monday or Tuesday – as many MPs suspect – she can threaten Brexiters with the prospect of a softer Brexit. If this passes later tonight, it will further focus minds for Brexit-supporting MPs about whether Mrs May’s deal is the hardest Brexit they can actually achieve.
Holding a series of public votes has been endorsed too by the business secretary Greg Clark and chancellor Philip Hammond.
Amendments selected: H, I, E, J
– Delay Brexit and seek majority for a new deal (E)
– Hold a second referendum (H)
– Indicative votes over future of Brexit (I)
– Make Mrs May’s existing deal the final version; no further meaningful vote (J)
But no amendment to rule out a second referendum, which had been backed by 111 MPs.
Lewis: No EU election planning
Brandon Lewis, Tory chairman, has just given a verbal statement to the Commons insisting – contrary to reports – that the party hasn’t already begun planning for possible European elections this summer, writes the FT’s Jim Pickard.
“That’s our position in public and in private,” he told MPs.
While that is technically true, says Jim, Theresa May herself is now dangling the threat of a lengthy Article 50 delay in front of rebels – which would extend past the summer elections to the European Parliament.
Theresa May still struggling to speak
The PM has had a throaty voice all week, and it is still bad, the FT’s George Parker informs us from Westminster.
Today’s Brexit debate will be opened by de facto deputy prime minister David Liddington and closed by Brexit secretary Steve Barclay.
Labour likely to keep voting against the PM
One element of next week’s “meaningful vote 3” that should not be be overlooked is how few Labour MPs have indicated that they will back the deal, Jim Pickard writes.
Only three MPs from the main opposition party voted with the PM on Tuesday night.
Mrs May needs Labour support unless almost all rebels from the European Research Group, a set of arch Brexiters, fall into line. This still seems unlikely.
One government aide says:
I can see why the ERG are getting all the blame for this but why aren’t Labour back-benchers feeling some of the heat? We could still end up with No Deal and they will have to shoulder some of the blame.
How the next crucial Brexit week is shaping up
Following two defeats, Theresa May will hold her third meaningful vote on her deal next Monday or Tuesday, with Tuesday being more likely, the FT’s George Parker writes.
Then MPs will have a series of indicative votes next Wednesday on possible alternative models of Brexit, assuming an amendment by former Tory minister Oliver Letwin is approved today.
The prime minister will then travel to Brussels for a European Council on Thursday to seek an extension to Brexit, either long or short.
The significance of this sequence is clear: Tory Eurosceptic MPs and the Democratic Unionist party will be told on Tuesday to vote for Mrs May’s deal or face the consequences. If they vote the deal down, Mrs May has said she will go to Brussels to seek a long extension to Brexit; in EU circles they are saying this could be two years or even more.
If MPs vote the deal down for a third time, MPs will then vote on Wednesday to see if they can agree an alternative form of Brexit; ideas like a Norway-style single market model, a second referendum or a customs union will be tested. It is likely that a customs union will curry the most cross-party support, but it is not clear yet if it would secure a majority.
In any event, this would all come too late in the day to avoid a long extension to Brexit. Mrs May has said she will seek a long extension if a deal has not been agreed with the EU before Thursday’s European Council; there is no way that a totally new proposal could be agreed with Brussels in 24 hours.
So if MPs defeat Mrs May’s deal on Tuesday, any Brexit Plan B would have to be formulated and negotiated with Brussels during the long extension. That would mean Britain would be in the EU until perhaps 2021 – five years after the original referendum – and would have to elect MEPs to the European Parliament.
Labour will not back second referendum amendment
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has told ITV that Labour will not back the amendment for second referendum tonight – but could do so next week. He said Labour was still undecided on whether to back the Benn/Cooper/Letwin amendment for indicative votes over Brexit despite support within the party.
Whipping row rumbles on
For anyone who missed it, the whipping system that is meant to ensure MPs vote the way their party wants broke down last night, after a dozen ministers – including four members of the cabinet – abstained on the big Brexit vote without any disciplinary repercussions.
They were voting, of course, on whether or not the UK should leave the EU without a withdrawal deal, with a majority of MPs stating that this should not happen.
Eurosceptic Tory MPs are angry that there none of the rebels have been sanctioned, our chief political correspondent Jim Pickard writes from Westminster.
Some are blaming Gavin Barwell (chief of staff in number 10) for apparently giving the nod. (He denies this).
According to Whitehall sources, Greg Clark asked chief whip Julian Smith during evening cabinet what the whipping arrangements would be on the main motion if the Cooper amendment went through. Smith apparently gave no clear answer.
Soon afterwards the four rebel cabinet ministers (David Gauke, Greg Clark, David Mundell, Amber Rudd) agreed they would abstain.
Some were under the impression that chancellor Philip Hammond would join in the rebellion, and were surprised when he didn’t.
The repercussions will continue today, with Eurosceptics claiming that collective responsibility has broken down.
Trump endorses trade deal
The US president, in an early morning tweet, has swung behind a “large scale” trade deal with the UK, saying, without any obvious hook, that “the potential is unlimited”.
Britain’s currency is heading lower as debate kicks off ahead of tonight’s crucial vote on whether to extend Brexit past March 29, Adam Samson writes.
The pound is down 0.82 per cent on the US dollar at $1.3219. The pullback contrasts its buoyant performance on Wednesday, when it posted its strongest rise in two years after parliament rejected the notion of a no-deal Brexit.
Currencies analysts broadly said that it is positive that MPs voted to avoid a potentially catastrophic no-deal Brexit, but that the outcome is still deeply uncertain.
“Even if ‘cliff edge risk’ is materially reduced due to an Article 50 extension, we’re not confident that the politics of an extension are all that pound-supportive anyway,” said Stephen Gallo, European head of currency strategy at BMO Capital Markets.
Lee Hardman, FX analyst at MUFG, offered a similar take:
Overall, this week’s Brexit developments have supported our view that the direction of travel is towards a delayed and potentially softer Brexit which has been supporting a stronger pound. However, political developments are also becoming increasingly uncertain. It comes with a clear health warning that the path ahead is not without pitfalls.
Indicative votes more likely?
There are eight amendments to the prime minister’s Brexit withdrawal treaty on the order paper.
Most importantly they include a closely watched one from Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin that proposes a series of indicative votes to allow MPs to rank their favoured Brexit options from permanent customs union to a second referendum.
EU leaders prepare for delay
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said that the EU should be open to a long extension of UK membership if more time is needed for Westminster to rethink its approach to leaving the bloc
But the EU’s chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt wants clarity:
Key amendments to come
MPs will try to amend Theresa May’s plan with a series of votes scheduled to start at 5pm – John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, is expected to select which amendments will be voted on about midday.
Here are the key ones, writes the FT’s Henry Mance:
– Labour’s “different approach” (Amendment E). This calls for a delay to the UK’s exit from the EU, although it doesn’t specify how long this should be; it says parliament should be given time “to find a majority for a different approach” to Brexit.
– Indicative votes (Amendment not yet published). Labour’s Yvette Cooper and the Conservative Oliver Letwin are expected to propose a series of indicative votes that would allow MPs to rank their favoured Brexit options from permanent customs union to a second referendum.
– Rule out referendum (Amendment B). Some 111 MPs have put their name to an amendment that seeks to rule out a second referendum as “divisive and expensive” .
– Hold a second referendum (Amendment H). Thirty MPs — mostly from the Independent Group, the Scottish National party and the Liberal Democrats — have called for the prime minister to ask the EU for a Brexit delay long enough to organise a second referendum.
– Scottish independence (Amendment F). The SNP and Wales’s Plaid Cymru have put down an amendment that backs a delay to Brexit, calls for a second referendum and recognises the right of the Scottish people to “choose their own constitutional future as a full, equal, sovereign, independent member state of the European Union”.
Lidington to open delay debate
Tory MP David Lidington will open the debate this morning at around 11.30, which will then go through the afternoon until the vote at 5pm. The closing speech will be delivered by Brexit secretary Steve Barclay.
Another big vote in Westminster
Good morning, and welcome to the FT’s live blog on another busy day in Westminster as Theresa May faces her third crucial vote in as many days – this time to see whether she can win three months’ breathing space to gain the backing of MPs to her deal.
If she can secure parliamentary approval for her withdrawal agreement before March 20 then Brexit will be delayed until the end of June to secure the necessary framework, but if not, then the extension could be much longer, and would likely mean that the UK would have to take part in the European Parliament elections.