Is a no-deal Brexit about to be taken off the table? This is the expectation in Westminster after Yvette Cooper tabled an amendment to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal. The amendment paves the way for legislation that would mean ministers had to extend Article 50 if a no-deal Brexit looked likely. The Labour leadership are considering backing it – though there is some debate about whether Article 50 ought to be extended in three month batches rather than than the nine month period currently specified in Cooper’s bill.
Brexiteers are so worried the amendment will pass that some – including Jacob Rees-Mogg – have gone so far as to claim that Theresa May ought to suspend Parliament in order to stop it. However, there is reason to question whether the amendment is a slam dunk. Labour sources say that while the leadership may end up backing it, it’s another no deal amendment that stands a higher chance of passing when MPs vote on amendments to the Prime Minister’s Brexit motion next week. There is another cross-party amendment – put forward by Conservative MP Caroline Spelman and Labour MP Jack Dromey – which says Parliament ‘rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for the future relationship’.
This amendment is being talked up by MPs in both of the main parties as it allows them to say they don’t want no deal without actually legislating on it. A number of MPs in both Labour and the Conservative party are keen to avoid a no deal Brexit. However, they also don’t wish to look as though they are trying to stop Brexit. The Cooper amendment if passed means that Britain’s exit from the UK could be delayed indefinitely. This could well play out badly with MPs representing Leave constituencies – they could be accused of stopping Brexit. It’s worth noting that the Spelman/Dromey amendment currently has more signatures by MPs than the Cooper amendment – which means in theory it has a higher chance of being selected by John Bercow. By backing the Dromey amendment, MPs can make a political statement that they don’t like no deal without having to play an active role in an alternative plan. If the past two years of indecision are anything to go by, there’s a high chance they’ll plump for the latter when push comes to shove.