I’ve started many of these updates by emphasising the seriousness of the position we face as a result of Theresa May’s inflexible handling of the Brexit negotiations, but last week chaos descended into farce. When I wound up the final day of the debates for Labour (watch my speech here or read it here) I was followed by Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, who urged MPs to back the Government’s motion on Article 50 – and then voted against it himself!
Last week’s mess was rooted in the Government’s duplicity in breaking with the procedure it had promised MPs back on 26 February. The Prime Minister had then set out a clear process for last week; first a vote on her deal, then a vote on ‘no deal’ (giving Tories a free vote), and then a vote on an extension of Article 50 to find a way forward.
But after her deal went down to another massive defeat on Tuesday, she tabled a caveated amendment on Wednesday expressing opposition to leaving without a deal on 29 March while keeping it on the table as an option. When an amendment was tabled to change it to a simple commitment against ‘no deal’, she whipped Tories to vote against it. Then, after the amendment was agreed, she whipped them to vote against her own (amended) motion, with some Ministers abstaining.
After that was agreed, the motion on Article 50 on Thursday was not what anyone expected. Instead of a simple resolution seeking authority for an extension, she proposed a time-limited extension to 30 June to facilitate the implementation of her twice-defeated deal. After amendments to this were narrowly rejected, we backed it as the only way to extend Article 50 – while almost 200 of her MPs opposed it in favour of taking us over the cliff on 29 March without a safety net.
Now we start another week with even greater uncertainty. Incredibly, we may have a third vote on her already twice-defeated deal on Tuesday or Wednesday, but even that’s not certain as she struggles to secure DUP support. Labour’s view hasn’t changed. We have been clear throughout that we would not accept a ‘Hobson’s Choice’ of the two differently damaging options; May’s deal hitting jobs and the economy by 4% and ‘no deal’ with a 10% hit.
It didn’t have to be like this. When I wound up Thursday’s debate for Labour I made the case to extend Article 50 for as long as necessary to resolve the current impasse. I called for the time we need to build a new consensus, having ruled out May’s deal and no deal, considering the support for an alternative deal based on a close economic relationship – a customs union, single market alignment, and continued membership of EU agencies and partnerships.
Thursday’s debate was about the arrangements for extending Article 50, so the People’s Vote campaigners said that they did not want this to be the moment to test support for a further referendum. Nevertheless I used the opportunity to make it clear that Labour will back “a further public vote – between a credible leave option and remaining in the EU”
Jeremy Corbyn has written to all opposition leaders and other MPs to seek a way of breaking the impasse. As I said on Thursday there were only four options – May’s deal, no deal, another deal and a further public vote – and two have been ruled out. So, over the days ahead we will be focusing on the potential for another deal and a further public vote.