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Brexit: A guide to MPs’ Brexit amendments

MPs are trying to change the course of Brexit in a number of ways, after rejecting the deal the prime minister struck with the European Union.

Theresa May will return to the Commons on 29 January to lead a debate on the next steps in the process.

The opposition and backbench MPs have been tabling amendments to her neutral motion in a bid to persuade the government to change direction.

Several different courses have been proposed and, in normal circumstances, one would be selected by the Speaker for 90 minutes of debate. Voting on the amendments and the motion itself will take place from 19:00 GMT on Tuesday.

However, it is expected that the government will allow time for MPs to discuss more options.

The proposals are below. Use our guide to Brexit jargon or click on the links for further explanation.

Labour frontbench amendment

Instructs the government to rule out a “disastrous No Deal” scenario (this option is supported by some Brexiteers but many MPs fear it will cause chaos at ports and disruption for businesses) and allow Parliament to consider – and vote on – options including:

  • An alternative Brexit deal involving Labour’s plan for a permanent customs union with Brussels and a version of the EU’s single market
  • Legislating to hold a public vote on either a deal or a proposition that has MPs’ support

It is thought this amendment would struggle to get the backing it needs from Conservative backbenchers to succeed in forcing the government’s hand.

If this was selected for debate by the Speaker, MPs would also vote on a series of changes proposed by backbench MPs.

  • Lib Dem Tom Brake wants to remove the option in the first bullet point – which essentially sets out Labour’s aims – and instead specify that Parliament should support a public vote “on the option to stay in the European Union”
  • Labour’s Mike Gapes would delete both Mr Corbyn’s options. He wants to include giving the public a “final say” through another In-Out referendum among the choices to be voted on by MPs
  • Labour’s Angela Smith goes further, forcing ministers to create a law paving the way for another public vote on whether the UK should leave the EU
  • Ian Murray, also Labour, also wants a public vote. He wants MPs to back a single option, namely to stage another referendum on a deal that “guarantees full participation in the single market with an option to stay in the EU”

Lib Dem amendment

Instructs the government to take steps to rule out “No Deal” and “prepare for a People’s Vote in which the public will have the option to remain in the European Union on the ballot paper”.

It is thought this would struggle to succeed. The People’s Vote campaign for a fresh referendum on EU membership held back from tabling a similar amendment, saying it would not get the backing of a majority of MPs without Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn telling his party to back it.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper’s amendment

Attempts to rule out the UK leaving the EU without a formal deal by allowing parliamentary time to pass a new law.

The bill to bring in the new law would require Theresa May to seek to postpone Brexit day (currently 29 March) until 31 December, if MPs do not approve her deal by 26 February.

The prime minister would do this by asking the EU to agree to extend the two-year limit on Article 50 – the mechanism paving the way for the UK to leave the EU.

It has the backing of senior Conservative backbenchers such as Nicky Morgan and Oliver Letwin, former Lib Dem health minister Norman Lamb and Plaid Cymru’s Ben Lake.

Conservative MP Dominic Grieve’s amendment

Forces the government to make time for MPs to discuss a range of alternatives to the prime minister’s Brexit plan on six full days in the Commons before 26 March.

MPs would be able to 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 the Norway-style relationship preferred by some MPs.

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 Caroline Lucas, of the Greens.

Labour MP Stella Creasy’s amendment

Requires the government to ask the EU to postpone Brexit day for an unspecified period and give the public more say in the Brexit process through a 250-member “Citizens’ Assembly”.

This would:

  • comprise a “representative sample of the population” to make recommendations on the Brexit process after 10 weeks of consideration
  • be supported by an “expert advisory group”
  • require the government to respond within two weeks

Labour MP Hilary Benn’s amendment

Calls on the government to hold a series of “indicative votes”, allowing MPs to signal whether they might support the following options:

  • To vote again on Theresa May’s deal in its current form, which sets out the terms of the UK’s withdrawal – including a “transition period” aimed at minimising disruption – and outlines future relations with the EU
  • To leave with a “no-deal” exit, without any such agreements and no transition period
  • To request the government tries to renegotiate the deal by seeking to either change the Irish “backstop” arrangement, pursue a “Canada-style” deal or aim to join the EEA and remain in the EU’s customs union
  • Hold a referendum to allow British people to decide on the kind of Brexit deal they want

Labour MP Rachel Reeves’ amendment

Requires the government to ask the EU to postpone Brexit day (without specifying for how long).

Dame Caroline Spelman (Conservative) and Jack Dromey (Labour) amendment

Attempts to prevent a “No-Deal” Brexit by adding to the PM’s motion that Parliament “rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship“.

Conservative MP Andrew Murrison’s amendments

Mr Murrison’s alternative aims to win round moderate opponents of the backstop arrangement to avoid the return of customs checks at the Irish border. It adds to the PM’s motion that Parliament “insists on an expiry date to the backstop”. This option, which could win over Northern Ireland’s 10 Democratic Unionists, was opposed by the Irish government. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the EU would never agree to it.

Conservative MP Graham Brady’s amendment

Calls for Parliament to require the backstop to be replaced with “alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border” but would otherwise support the prime minister’s deal.

Conservative MP John Baron’s three amendments

Each of Mr Baron’s amendments takes a different approach to trying to avoid the possibility of the UK becoming tied to EU customs rules in the long term.

  1. Seeks to avoid any arrangement at the Irish border that would tie any part of the UK to EU customs rules until a formal trade deal was in place. It adds to the PM’s motion that Parliament “will not approve a Withdrawal Agreement which includes a Northern Ireland backstop“.
  2. Aims to limit any backstop agreed as part of a withdrawal deal to six months
  3. Calls for the UK to have the right to exit any such backstop without the EU’s agreement

Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake’s amendment

Creates a cross-party committee to take charge of the Brexit process.

It would have power to decide when parliamentary time should be made available for Brexit debates and legislation, including on a fresh referendum with Remain on the ballot paper, to appoint special advisers, and to travel within the UK and to Brussels.

What happens if they succeed?

None of these amendments, if successful, would be binding on the government, although support for any of them would put political pressure on Theresa May to follow their direction.

However, if Yvette Cooper’s amendment was successful, and she then managed to get MPs to approve her bill, it would become law and so place an obligation on the government.


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