POLITICS
27/01/2019 15:57 GMT

Sunday Shows Round-Up: Brexit Amendments, No-Deal Martial Law, and Philip May

We watched them so you didn't have to.

Reuters
Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Labour's Yvette Cooper on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show

MPs are gearing up for a potentially crucial series of Brexit votes in the House of Commons on Tuesday and the Sunday politics shows were dominated by discussion of what could happen.

Yvette Cooper was promoting her amendment to block a no-deal Brexit by extending Article 50, in a bid to get a hesitant Labour Party on board.

Cabinet ministers Matt Hancock and Damian Hinds were quizzed about backbench Tory plans to ditch the Irish border backstop from the Brexit deal in what could give Theresa May a final roll of the dice in negotiations with the EU.

Meanwhile a report overnight that the civil service has considered plans to declare martial law in the event of a no-deal Brexit underlined the urgency of the situation.

So a lot to talk about. Here’s what happened...

How is the plan to stop no deal shaping up?

Cooper was the only MP who has tabled an amendment to May’s Brexit plan to appear on the Sunday shows to rally support.

On BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, the Commons home affairs committee chair insisted her plan to extend Article 50 if no deal is agreed by the end of next month was not a bid to “block Brexit”.

The Labour MP said “in the end someone has to take responsibility” to end the Brexit “game of chicken”, and stressed that MPs would make a decision on how long the delay would last in a bit to get the backing of Jeremy Corbyn, who is wary of prolonging withdrawal for too long.

The hesitation at the top of Labour was highlighted by shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, who told Ridge On Sunday on Sky News the British public do not want Brexit to be delayed.

But she held out an olive branch, stressing Labour would do “whatever it takes to avoid a no-deal Brexit, so if that’s that’s the only option we have it’s something we will seriously consider”.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon meanwhile backed Cooper’s amendment, telling Marr “there’s almost an air of the Prime Minister and her Government being in complete denial” about the opposition to her deal. 

“That’s why I think now Article 50 should be extended,” she said.

 

What about rival Tory plans?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock gave the strongest public indication yet that the government could back an amendment from senior Tory MP Sir Graham Brady to remove the controversial Irish backstop from May’s deal.

Matt Hancock told Marr “we have got to listen very carefully to people who are willing to vote for the deal subject to some amendments, we need to build that majority in the Commons clearly and this was one of the proposals that’s coming from a wide range of people who want to get a deal through”. 

If passed, the amendment could help the prime minister by strengthening her negotiating hand, as she would be able to demonstrate to the EU that the deal can pass if the backstop is moved or changed.

“I do understand the impulse,” Hancock said.

 

But will the EU agree to remove such an integral part of the deal?

Education Secretary Damian Hinds acknowledged on Ridge that removing or time limiting the backstop “isn’t something which is entirely in the gift of one side or the other in the negotiations”.

The scale of the task facing May was underlined by Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, who told Marr the EU would simply refuse to remove the backstop.

“The backstop is already a compromise. It is a series of compromises,” Coveney said.

“It was designed around British red lines.

“Ireland has the same position as the European Union now, I think, when we say that the backstop as part of the Withdrawal Agreement is part of a balanced package that isn’t going to change.”

 

So are we heading for a no-deal Brexit and martial law?

Hinds told Ridge the government was unlikely to actively pursue a no-deal Brexit, but warned that it could happen if MPs do not approve a negotiated settlement.  

“I don’t envisage no deal becoming Government policy,” he said.

“We want to avoid a no deal. No deal would not be a good outcome.”

The scale of disruption the government is planning for in the event of no deal was highlighted by Hancock, who appeared to confirm a Sunday Times report that the civil service had considered plans to declare martial law to calm any disorder. 

He told Marr:  “I wouldn’t put a stress on that.

“Of course government all the time looks at all the options in all circumstances.”

When pressed, he said: “It remains on the statute book but it isn’t the focus of our attention.”

 

Will Labour back a second referendum to try and end the chaos?

Rayner underlined the reluctance at the top of Labour to back a so-called People’s Vote, saying politicians politicians will have “failed the public” if they ask voters to give their views on EU membership again

Rayner also revealed she would vote to stay in the EU if there was a second poll but described a narrow victory for Remain as the “the worst case scenario”, adding: “what are we going to have then, a best of three?”

 

One MP had an outlandish suggestion

Tory arch-Eurosceptic Andrea Jenkyns called for the backstop to be ditched entirely and suggested replacing Olly Robbins, the civil servant leading Brexit negotiations, with the PM’s husband Philip May.

It follows a Sunday Times report that Philip May persuaded his wife to try and get changes on the backstop to win over Tory MPs and the DUP, rather than compromising with Labour and backing a customs union.

“Maybe we also ought to replace Olly Robbins with Mr May as the chief negotiator because it seems he is talking more sense at the moment,” Jenkyns told Ridge.

 

What else happened? 

Hancock called on social media firms to to “purge” the internet of harmful content that promotes self-harm and suicide.

It came after the father of 14 year-old Molly Russell, who took her own life, siad Instagram “helped kill my daughter”. 

Hancock said he was “horrified” to learn of Molly’s death, and feels “desperately concerned to ensure young people are protected”.