Unless you’ve been living on Mars, it won’t have escaped your notice that Brexit isn’t going terribly well.
Theresa May’s deal suffered the biggest ever Westminster defeat for a sitting government, ministers were found to be in contempt of parliament, and both the prime minister and her administration emerged victorious after two motions of no-confidence.
But that’s old news. Westminster is now abuzz with cross-party plots ahead of the PM returning to the Commons on January 29.
May will put a government motion before MPs setting out her next steps towards a plan B Brexit, and MPs are rushing to table motions to try and force the PM to change course.
Normally, Speaker John Bercow would select one amendment and allow 90 minutes of debate – but these aren’t normal times, so we should expect this to turn into quite a fight.
Take a deep breath, folks. This is your comprehensive guide on who wants to do what, and how.
Yvette Cooper’s no-deal backstop
This amendment tabled by Theresa May’s old foe Yvette Cooper, has been called the MPs’ parliamentary backstop on a no-deal Brexit.
Set out by the Labour chair of the Home Affairs select committee, it aims to stop the UK from crashing out of the European Union by carving out ore time for parliament to extend article 50. This, in turn, gives us more time to negotiate a Brexit deal that has the backing of cross-party MPs.
So, if the government fails to win support for a Brexit deal by February 26, this plan would allow Theresa May to seek an extension of the Article 50 deadline from its current date, March 29, to December 31 2019.
Will it pass? It certainly seems likely. Cooper has brought together a broad coalition of support. Labour’s John McDonnell has called the plan “sensible” and a number of senior Tories, such as Nicky Morgan and Sir Oliver Letwin, as well as Lib Dem former health minister Norman Lamb and Plaid Cymru’s Ben Lake are ready to throw their weight behind it.
Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Brexit
This amendment, backed by the Labour leader, instructs the government to rule out no-deal and would allow MPs to vote on alternative options.
Those options would include:
A new Brexit deal with a permanent customs union and a strong single market deal (so Labour’s proposed Brexit deal)
Legislating for a second Brexit referendum – a so-called “people’s vote”
It is not thought likely this will get enough MPs’ support. A number of Labour MPs do not support a second referendum. Those MPs who do on the Tory benches do not see this complicated, sequential motion as the best route to getting what they want.
But People’s Vote campaigning MPs were trying to tweak Corbyn’s amendment to garner broader support.
Labour MP Ian Murray wants to add wording that says the referendum should include a deal with full access to the single market and remain. A second group of MPs, including Chris Leslie, want the amendment to push ministers to “take all necessary steps to prepare and legislate for a public vote on whether or not the United Kingdom should leave the EU”. Labour MP Mike Gapes wants any public vote to specify leave or remain.
Many Tories, however, may be suspicious of an overall plan that allows the opposition to force a strategy on the government.
Graham Brady’s backstop amendment
The influential chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench Tories has tabled an amendment that says MPs support the PM’s deal if the controversial Northern Irish backstop is replaced with “alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”.
It aims to add these clauses to the PM’s motion: “and requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border; supports leaving the EU with a deal and would therefore support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change”.
While none of the amendments are legally binding, MPs backing this amendment would underline to Brussels that the customs backstop is the remaining stumbling block to getting the UK to back a deal.
It has the backing of Tory MPs who voted both for and against May’s deal, including the PM’s ally Damian Green, and crucially, given Bercow is more likely to select amendments that have cross-party support, could win the support of Northern Irish DUP MPs.
If passed, the amendment would be both helpful for the PM and bad news for Remainers trying to derail Brexit.
Dominic Grieve’s open timetable
The former Tory attorney general’s amendment is the priority for MPs trying to trigger a second referendum, as it hands power to backbenchers.
It forces the government to make time to discuss a range of alternatives to the PM’s Brexit before Article 50 expires on March 29.
Under the plan, MPs would take control of the parliamentary timetable on 5 and 12 February and 5, 12, 19 and 26 March, for a series of debates – such as on a soft Brexit or a so-called “people’s vote” – and indicative votes.
MP can then table amendments to be voted on at the end of the debate, which could include alternative Brexit options such as Labour’s plan, a second referendum, no-deal and soft Brexit.
This has the backing of some Labour backbenchers, as well as the SNP’s Philippa Whitford, Lib Dem Tom Brake, Plaid Cymru’s Jonathan Edwards and Green MP Caroline Lucas.
Given the amendment offers backbenchers the biggest possible canvass, Grieve’s plan will attract the backing of MPs supportive of a second referendum.
Andrew Murrison’s Irish border get-out clause
The Tory MP wants to add to the prime minister’s plan B motion that parliament “insists on an expiry date to the backstop”.
It is aimed at winning round Tory Brexiteers who fear May’s current Brexit plan would leave the UK trapped indefinitely in a customs arrangement with the EU.
Though this amendment would not be legally binding on any withdrawal agreement the Commons may pass in future, it means May can point Brussels to what her MPs want.
While there is a good chance the government will accept this amendment, a cut-off date on the Northern Irish backstop is something the Irish government has said it will never support.
MPs from the hardline Brexiteer ERG Tory faction, which May is working very hard to win over, are not queuing up to add their name, which could spell trouble for the PM.
Stella Creasy’s citizens’ assembly
The Walthamstow remainer’s amendment compels Theresa May to extend Article 50 for an unspecified period of time to give the public a greater say over what happens next, via a 250-member citizens’ assembly.
The group would be made up of a “representative sample of the population” and make recommendations after 10 weeks of discussion, to which the government would have two weeks to respond.
The assembly would also have an “expert advisory group”.
Support for this amendment so far has been limited and it looks unlikely to pass.
Hilary Benn’s indicative votes
The Labour MP wants the government to hold a series of votes in the Commons on different Brexit options, to see what would command a majority in a final Brexit deal.
The indicative votes would be:
Forcing May to renegotiate a deal
A Canada-style free trade deal
A Norway-style soft Brexit
A second referendum
The idea of holding the indicative votes has been backed by Remainer cabinet ministers such as Amber Rudd and Greg Clark.
Rachel Reeves’s open-ended extension
This amendment requires the government to ask the EU to postpone Brexit day (without specifying for how long).
It has the backing of Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn, as well as Dominic Grieve and Oliver Letwin, but it has a limited chance of success as the Labour frontbench will not support something that could be seen as thwarting Brexit.
Spelman/Dromey’s straight no-deal ban
The two MPs are aiming to stop a no-deal exit from the EU by simply adding the words “rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship” to whatever plan B Brexit motion the PM brings before parliament.
Support for this fairly straightforward amendment has been growing, with 115 Labour and Tory backbenchers at the last count.
Tom Brake’s cross-party committee
The Liberal Demcrat wants a cross-party committee to take over Brexit.
The committee would have special advisors and its MPs would travel across the UK and to Brussels.
It could decide whether to hold a second referendum, what legislation to bring forward and when MPs could debate it.
Beyond the Lib Dems, the amendment has the support of small handful of Labour remain-backing MPs and is highly unlikely to be picked by Speaker John Bercow.
John Baron’s 3 customs union cut-offs
Conservative MP John Baron has tabled three amendments, all of which aim for different ways to stop the UK from being tied to a customs union with the EU a long time into the future.
Bans any arrangement at the Irish border that ties the UK to EU customs rules until a formal trade deal is struck. It adds to the PM’s motion that parliament “will not approve a Withdrawal Agreement which includes a Northern Ireland backstop”.
Limits any backstop tied to a Brexit deal to six months
Demands the UK has the right to exit any customs backstop without the EU’s agreement
While the amendments will be enthusiastically supported by the DUP and hardline Tory Eurosceptics, these three amendments are unlikely to win cross-party support and are therefore unlikely to be selected.
Frank Field’s Brexit options
Similar to Benn’s amendment, the independent (previously Labour) MP wants the Commons to “have an opportunity as soon as possible” to have a free vote on a range of options, including:
A reformed Northern Irish backstop
Extending Article 50
A Canada-style future relationship with the EU
A Norway-style future relationship with the EU
Holding a new referendum
Entering into a customs union with the EU.
Tory former minister Ed Vaizey has put his name to the amendment but so far few others have.
Why is there no ‘people’s vote’ amendment?
Quite simply, because the MPs who back the idea know a second referendum does not have a Commons majority at this time.
Some fear a second vote will damage social cohesion, while others think the move would be undemocratic – and many Labour MPs represent areas where the Leave vote in 2016 was huge.
Chuka Umunna, Anna Soubry and others are banking on Remain-leaning colleagues working through options for a softer Brexit and later deciding that a re-run of the vote is the best choice.
Crucially, with numbers on the Tory benches tight, this group needs Labour to whip its MPs to make up the numbers.
Four doctor MPs – Tories Phillip Lee and Sarah Wollaston, Labour’s Paul Williams and the SNP’s Phillipa Whitford – are working together to table an amendment at a later date, which will demand that Brexit has “the informed consent” of the public. It is expected to rely on the argument that voters were misled by Brexit campaigners in 2016.
For now, however, they are pushing Grieve’s plan to hand parliamentary time over to backbenchers as they regard it as the “broadest possible canvass” they can use to change May’s Brexit strategy.