BREXIT UPDATE 17: A Look at the Coming Week: Guest Post by Deborah Maccoby

March 24, 2019

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BREXIT UPDATE 17: A Look at the Coming Week

There have been some interesting developments since my last Brexit Update.  Yesterday (Saturday March 23) a massive march took place in London in support of a “People’s Vote”, or second referendum.  Organisers estimate the numbers at one million.[1]  Yet, highly impressive though this looks, it should be pointed out that most people on this march were middle-class Londoners, who do not reflect the views of the majority outside London and other big cities that voted Leave . Indeed, the very name — “People’s Vote” — that has been given to this movement is often criticised for its implication that the 17 million who voted Leave in the 2016 referendum (and won) were not real people.  Moreover,   support for a second referendum in Parliament is still very small.  So it looks as though this demonstration, huge though it was, will not have much effect.

Second, there were dramatic reports last night (Saturday March 23) that the Cabinet were engaged in a “coup” against the Maybot to oust her from office.  It was said that the coup plotters – who are said to be Conservative Ministers opposed to the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal — wanted to make her de facto deputy, David Lidington (who leans towards Remain), a caretaker Prime Minister till a Conservative leadership contest can be organised later on.   This morning, however, David Lidington and also the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove – who was also touted as a more “centrist” possible immediate replacement for the Maybot (he was involved in the Leave campaign during the referendum but is said to be opposed to No Deal) – have denied the rumours and rallied round the Prime Minister.  The Guardian has concluded tonight that the “coup” has failed to materialise and the Maybot for now “limps on”.[2]

The Maybot was holed up for hours from 3pm this afternoon at the Prime Minister’s country home, Chequers, engaged in crisis talks with the right-wing Tory Brexiteers Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Dominic Raab and Iain Duncan-Smith (these all support a “managed no-deal”).  Also in attendance were ministers who – for now at least – are supporting her:  Lidington, Gove, the Brexit Secretary , Stephen Barclay, and the Maybot loyalist former Cabinet Minister Damian Green.   The Chief Whip, Julian Smith, and the Conservative Party Chairman, Brandon Lewis, were also reported to be present.

Rumours have been flying around that, in a final desperate attempt to persuade right-wing Brexiteers to support her deal, the Maybot is offering up herself as a sacrifice: she is promising – so the rumours go – to step down as PM if the Brexiteers will only vote for her deal.

In interviews with the press, Lidington and Gove have stressed the importance of the House of Commons passing the Maybot’s deal .  So it is at least possible that, despite the Speaker’s ruling, a vote on it will be indeed be held in the coming week, perhaps on Tuesday (March 26) or maybe Thursday.[3]

Tomorrow (Monday March 25), the Maybot  is required, under a parliamentary amendment to the EU Withdrawal Act, to make a statement to the House of Commons about how she intends to proceed after the second rejection of her deal that took place on March 12.  This statement will be in the form of an amendable motion – this is a “neutral” motion (ie phrased in uncontroversial terms) that “takes note” of the Prime Minister’s statement on March 15 that set out the government’s plan to ask the EU for an extension to Article 50.

A crucial amendment has been put forward by the Conservative MP (and former Cabinet Minister) Oliver Letwin.  This amendment, which has strong cross-party backing, calls for Wednesday (March 27) to be a day when the House of Commons takes control of the Brexit process by means of a process of “indicative votes”:  debating and voting on various options decided upon by Parliament, not by the government.  This is a variation of the Benn Amendment that (as was described in Brexit Update 13) lost by only two votes in the March 14 debate.  It is thought that the new Letwin/Boles/Benn Amendment (as it is being dubbed) stands a very good chance of passing this time. So if the amendment is passed tomorrow (Monday), Wednesday will be devoted to this House of Commons-led debate.[4]

The next Brexit Update will discuss Monday’s statement by the Maybot, the amendments and the outcomes of the debate.