Brexit Special: Schrödinger’s Rebellion

Posted on 14th June 2018

This special edition of Brexit Brief examines the fall-out from Tuesday’s votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill in the House of Commons.

May won the vote – but did she lose on the substance?

After a last-minute deal, UK Prime Minister Theresa May won a vote to remove an amendment giving greater control over Brexit negotiations to parliament.  Rebels in her Conservative party were set to vote with the opposition to pass an amendment giving parliament the power to direct the government to seek an alternative deal if the government’s own deal was unsatisfactory.  After receiving assurances that the government would table a compromise version of the amendment themselves in the House of Lords next week, the would-be rebels voted with the government.  Although May avoided defeat on the vote, she and these MPs found themselves issuing contradictory briefings on what had been conceded, and Downing Street insisted it would not consider offering MPs the chance to make the government renegotiate.  Incensed, rebels have threatened to re-table the amendment in the Commons when it comes back in the coming weeks.  If May loses – as it still appears she might – she may find herself in the backseat of her own negotiation or seeking another general election.

Northern Ireland amendment passes, sparking claims UK will be kept effectively in single market

Other anti-Brexit MPs are today claiming we were all looking at the wrong vote.  The EU Withdrawal Bill would allow ministers to issue regulations under it to amend EU regulations and directives, in principle to make sure they refer to UK authorities rather than European ones.  An amendment to this part of the bill, which passed last night (with government support), forbids ministers from passing regulations that would change border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  In other words, so one reading goes, the UK cannot diverge from EU regulations, lest it create the need for checks between Ireland and the UK.  However, this ignores that the doctrine of British parliamentary sovereignty does not extend beyond its borders: the Commission insists it would need to erect customs checks, and would not be bound by the vote, so take this with a pinch of salt.

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