After two years (and a month’s delay) Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement will today finally be voted on in the House of Commons.
After huge vocal opposition from her own backbenchers, numerous ministerial resignations and a divide with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) (who support the government in a confidence and supply agreement) the prospects of May’s deal passing parliament are incredibly slim.
The government’s aim appears to have switched from passing the deal to managing the scale of its defeat. Damage limitation hopes rested this morning on a series of amendments to the deal, some of which the government had signalled support for.
The speaker has selected four amendments for debate before the vote, unfortunately for the government, none of these are those it supports.
The Murrison amendment was the main hope for May, as it would have applied a binding time limit on the backstop (the part of the deal causing the most opposition – particularly from the DUP), potentially persuading some sceptical MPs to back the deal as a short-term solution to deliver Brexit. While this amendment is incompatible with the actual agreement, the government hoped to use it as leverage in renegotiations with the EU in the likely event the deal is voted down.
The speaker also rejected the Hugo Swire amendment – also focusing on amending the backstop with a requirement that it be replaced within 12 months of the end of the transition.
From the Labour benches, John Mann’s amendment has also been rejected, which proposed the government commit to maintaining employment, environmental protection and health and safety standards after Brexit. John Mann is one of the few Labour MPs breaking with the whip to support May’s deal, and the government would’ve hoped this amendment may have persuaded more wavering Labour MPs to back the deal.
The four amendments that the speaker has chosen for debates are all highly unlikely to pass or achieve government backing:
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has tabled an amendment that puts pressure on the government to pursue all alternatives to no deal.
From the SNP, Ian Blackford’s amendment rejects the deal and calls for an extension of Article 50.
Sir Edward Leigh and John Barron have both proposed amendments that focus on the UK’s ability to exit the backstop – but the government have already rejected Leigh’s proposal.
With no favourable amendments to the deal selected for debate and no change in the agreement after attempts at renegotiation with the EU, May’s deal seems doomed to fail. Bar a political miracle, the real question now is what the scale of the defeat will be this evening.