With just 46 days to go until the UK leaves the EU on March 29, MPs are on the precipice of *yet another* key week in parliament.
But with the situation with Brexit now seemingly changing dramatically day-to-day, it’s becoming harder than ever to keep up with what’s actually going on. How likely are we to crash out of the EU without a deal? Is the European Union willing to reconsider the Irish backstop? Is Article 50 going to be extended? Does anyone have the energy to follow this stuff anymore?
Never fear – there’s no need to hide when someone brings up the customs union at the office water cooler.
Here’s HuffPost UK’s bluffer’s guide to all the big Brexit happenings in Westminster this week – go forth and blag it.
Theresa May’s letter to Jeremy Corbyn
Okay, topic one – Theresa May’s letter to Jeremy Corbyn. On Sunday night, the PM penned a response to a note from the Labour leader setting out his party’s five key demands for a Brexit deal.
In what politicos have dubbed a “surprisingly warm” letter, May told Corbyn she wanted their parties to discuss “alternative arrangements” to the controversial Irish backstop, saying they should meet “as soon as possible”.
While the letter set off alarm bells among some staunch Brexiteers on the Tory benches, with some reportedly worried she could could get a softer Brexit through parliament with Labour support, there’s no real suggestion in the note that the prime minister has actually accepted Labour’s terms on Brexit.
On the topic of the customs union – which Corbyn wants the UK to remain in after leaving the EU – May wrote: “I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals.”
So it’s clearly not a complete love-in between the two leaders.
Thursday’s big vote
In what could be a Valentine’s Day massacre for the prime minister, on Thursday Labour will attempt to force May to give MPs another meaningful vote on her Brexit deal.
In a bid to prevent May from “running down the clock” ahead of March 29, the party will table an amendment demanding MPs are given a say on the deal by February 26.
The PM has already promised MPs another meaningful vote, but Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer told the Sunday Times he believed she would offer politicians a “binary choice” – i.e. her deal or no deal – a week before the UK is due to leave.
“We can’t allow that to happen,” he said. “There needs to be a day when parliament says that’s it, enough is enough.”
Negotiations with Brussels
MPs voted last month to replace the controversial Irish backstop – effectively an insurance deal to prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland – with “alternative arrangements”.
But how are May’s attempts at negotiations with Brussels actually going? Are we any closer to getting rid of the backstop?
Short answer: not really. Among his controversial comments about Brexiteers and hell at a press conference last week, European Council president Donald Tusk made it clear that the Irish backstop would not be removed from the withdrawal agreement and that all sides must prepare for a “fiasco” no-deal Brexit. (Eek.)
Meanwhile, Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar reportedly quashed May’s hopes of renegotiating the backstop over dinner in Dublin on Friday night, telling Sky News he only wanted to “restore confidence and trust” at the meeting.
According to the BBC, May will return to the Commons on Wednesday to ask MPs for more time to get legally-binding changes to the Irish backstop, having yet been unable to get Brussels to budge on the issue.