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Brexit amendments: how MPs might take back control (The Times)


Oliver Wright, Policy Editor – January 22 2019, 12:00pm, The Times

Next Tuesday MPs will, for the first time, get the chance to seize control of the Brexit process. Under the law the government must table what will be an amendable motion in the House of Commons on the way forward.

And MPs from across the political spectrum fully intend to take advantage of it — to try and amend it to dictate the terms of what happens next. Some of those amendments have already been tabled and more are expected in the coming days.

So what are the amendments so far; what would they do, and what are the potential problems?

The Grieve amendment

What is it?
It is one of two procedural amendments designed to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

Under the law as it stands, Britain will leave the European Union with or without a deal on March 29.

The problem for MPs who oppose a no-deal Brexit is that under Britain’s constitutional convention, the government controls the parliamentary timetable.

In effect this means that a no-deal Brexit can only be stopped with government support.

But because Britain does not have a written constitution this potentially opens the door to novel parliamentary procedure (and tactics) to upend convention and force a change of approach on the government.

The Grieve amendment would suspend House of Commons standing orders that currently give the government the power to control the business of the Commons.

Who supports it?
Its lead author is Dominic Grieve, the former attorney-general, and it is backed by Tory former ministers including Justine Greening, Sam Gyimah and Philip Lee. It also has support from Labour backbenchers — mainly those who want a second referendum.

What effect would it have?
The Grieve plan is basically a mechanism to force so-called indicative votes on the government. This would allow MPs to vote either for or against a second referendum; a Norway-style soft Brexit; or indeed a no-deal Brexit. While the motion would not have the effect of changing the law, the idea is that it would force MPs to come up with a plan that could command majority support. Those behind the scheme argue that no government could reject the settled will of parliament even if it was technically non-binding. They also believe it will show that there are at least 300 MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit.

What are its problems?
The main one is that any motion could be disregarded by the government if it so chose. The prime minister could, for example, choose to call a general election, arguing that parliament was going against the will of the people and so she needed a fresh mandate.

It is also possible that the process could be indecisive. It is far from clear that there is a majority in the Commons in favour of any kind of option. If all options were voted down the whole process might not achieve very much at all.

The Cooper amendment

What is it?
It starts from the same premise of the Grieve amendment. It would also suspend House of Commons standing orders that give the government the power to control the business of the House of Commons.

But instead of a motion, the Cooper plan would involve MPs debating a bill that was tabled yesterday instructing the government to lay a motion extending Article 50 until the end of the year if agreement cannot be reached by a specified date.

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