Brexit live: MPs debate rival plans after May offers to resign

Tory MPs want clarity

The FT’s Laura Hughes writes that one Tory MP in the 1922 committee simply said: “There was no timeline. No dates. No clarity.”‬

The expectation among many MPs is that – should her deal pass – then a leadership contest would start quickly after the new Brexit date of May 22. A new PM would the be in place in the summer to oversee the next stage of negotiations with the EU.

But government officials have said to Laura that they have been told that if the prime minister doesn’t get the deal through then “she’s staying on”.

MP’s continue to debate alternative Brexit

The debate that started a little after 3pm on the 8 options on how parliament might go forward with Brexit is still in full swing, even though the PM has effectively stolen their thunder by offering to quit.

A reminder that we are expecting votes on the 8 options at some point after 7pm with results possibly coming as late as 9:30pm. In between times, MPs will also be debating and voting on passing a so-called statutory instrument that moves the Brexit date back from 29 March as per the agreement between May and other EU leaders last week. Even if that SI weren’t to pass, the delay to Brexit – either 12 April if May’s deal fails – or 22 May if May’s deal is passed, would still be valid as EU law is superior to UK law.

No expectation DUP will back May’s deal

The Northern Irish unionist party that props up Theresa May’s government appears to be unmoved by the PM’s offer to resign in exchange for supporting her Brexit deal, which they have always opposed.

The FT’s Laura Hughes says Eurosceptic sources have told her that they don’t expect the DUP to back the deal tonight as things stand because the prime minister hasn’t given them any wriggle room.

The sources added that the party had been spooked by the suggestion of the speaker John Bercow’s that he might not allow a third vote this week as we reported earlier.

There had been some expectations that the DUP would issue a statement at some point this evening but apparently that won’t now happen.

May’s offer to quit leaves sterling unmoved

Sterling remained locked in the day’s range on Wednesday evening, barely flinching after Theresa May offered to resign as prime minister if MPs vote for her Brexit deal, writest FastFT’s Adam Samson.

The UK pound was 0.1 per cent higher at $1.3222 in recent trade, just slightly under its highs for the day. It rose 0.3 per cent on the common currency, buying 1.1747 euros.

Britain’s currency has steadily held above the $1.31 level this week with investors eyeing Brexit negotiations.

A slate of indicative votes on how to proceed on Brexit, scheduled to take place in roughly an hour, “might prompt some sterling volatility,” said Derek Halpenny at MUFG.

Eulogies start for Mrs May

The FT’s Seb Payne says that the mood inside the 1922 meeting was one of “relief”, according to one MP.

“It was the best speech I’ve ever seen given to the committee,” said George Freeman. “There was huge respect for a a beautifully delivered speech.”

Another MP, Simon Hart, said she was “passionate about keeping the party together”, while Patrick McLoughlin, the former party chairman and transport secretary, praised the prime minister’s legacy and said she’d done a “wonderful job”.

She did not speak with a microphone but her voice cracked during the crucial part.

“I’ve never heard the 1922 so silent,” said one MP.

Extracts of the PM’s speech

Addressing the 1922 Committee this evening, Theresa May said:

This has been a testing time for our country and our party. We’re nearly there. We’re almost ready to start a new chapter and build that brighter future.

But before we can do that, we have to finish the job in hand. As I say, I don’t tour the bars and engage in the gossip – but I do make time to speak to colleagues, and I have a great team in the Whips’ Office. I also have two excellent PPSs.

And I have heard very clearly the mood of the parliamentary party. I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations – and I won’t stand in the way of that.

I know some people are worried that if you vote for the Withdrawal Agreement, I will take that as a mandate to rush on into phase two without the debate we need to have. I won’t – I hear what you are saying.

But we need to get the deal through and deliver Brexit.

I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party.

I ask everyone in this room to back the deal so we can complete our historic duty – to deliver on the decision of the British people and leave the European Union with a smooth and orderly exit.”

May offers her job to pass deal

Theresa May has told Tory MPs she will not stay on as prime minister to oversee future trade talks with the EU, in a last throw of the dice intended to persuade Eurosceptics to back her exit deal, reports the FT’s Laura Hughes, Sebastian Payne and George Parker.

Mrs May made the dramatic offer to step down in the next few months in a meeting with Tory MPs at Westminster, after senior Tories said that setting a timetable for her departure was a prerequisite of winning support for her deal.

Mrs May’s offer is intended to pave the way for a possible third vote on her exit deal in the next 48 hours, as it offers Tory Eurosceptics the hope that they can take over the second phase of exit talks.

If Mrs May secures the passage of her deal it would suggest that she would step down over the summer, clearing the way for the coronation of a new Tory leader and prime minister in time for the party conference in October.

EmoticonTheresa May to stand down after Brexit deal

The UK prime minister has told Conservative MPs she will stand down if her Brexit deal passes, setting out a timetable for her departure.

May wants to clear the way for a leadership election during the second phase of the Brexit negotiations.

Government attacks Common Market 2.0

The Department fo Exiting the EU has taken to Twitter to attack Option D – the so-called Common Market 2.0 proposed by Conservative MP Nick Boles and Labour’s Stephen Kinnock. In a Tweet Dexeu insistst that it would not “respect the referendum result.”

It says it would not end free movement, require the UK to continued to pay into the EU coffers, block the UK’s ability to set its own trade policy and make the UK a “rule taker.”

Replies to the Tweet point out that none of those “red lines” were on the ballot paper in the 2016 referendum.

Commons clears out as 1922 gathers

With most Conservative backbenchers heading off to listen to Theresa May, the Commons floor looks rather empty.

Nicky Morgan, one of the few in her party still there, describes today as a “ground-breaking, unprecedented debate”.

But, as one Labour MP points out: “There’s nobody here! Where are the Tories?”

May to address party

Conservative MPs are arriving for a meeting of the so-called 1922 committee, writes the FT’s Seb Payne, where Theresa May will address her party. The room is so packed that they are struggling to get in.

Laura Hughes reports that cabinet ministers are stood outside the meeting room unable to fit in. The 1922 committee is the parliamentary group of the Conservatives – in effect, the party’s backbenchers – who May will be relying on to back the next attempt to pass her Brexit deal.

Option O – alternative proposal for trading relationship with the EU in case of a no-deal Brexit

This is the last of the 8 options to be voted on. Tory Brexiter Marcus Fysh has spent most his time telling MPs why none of the other options proposed are workable. His option, he claims, is a “plan B” – a contingency arrangement should the UK not ratify the withdrawal agreement with the EU. The proposal would seek to finalise a trade agreement, during a two-year standstill period of “mutual recognition of standards” and customs arrangements. The UK would also continue to pay its share of the EU bill during the two-year period, he adds. It is likely to be unacceptable to the EU.

He insists it is “simple to agree” and “honours the referendum”.

Benn on a second referendum

Labour backbencher Hilary Benn is on his feet explaining why he has now come round to the idea of a second referendum.

He points out that the prime minister has changed her mind – insisting no deal was better than a bad deal and then ruling out no deal – and that Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the hardline Brexit wing of the Tory party appears to be changing his mind on backing May’s deal. “Why is it,” he asks, “that the only people who can’t change their mind are the British people.”

Option H – single market membership

Tory backbencher and a former minister George Eustice, is laying out his proposal for the UK to join Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein in the European Economic Area — inside the single market, but outside the customs union.

He points out that the benefits of this approach is that “we can get things done quickly” by adopting this approach at the same time as becoming an “independent country”.

All 8 to go to vote

All 8 motions will be voted on tonight. Their backers had until 4pm to withdraw, writes the FT’s Henry Mance, and none of them did.

Labour’s whips’ office confirm the lineup:

Option M – a second referendum

Labour grandee Margaret Beckett is explaining why MPs should vote to back a second referendum. She argues EU membership is too valuable for a decision on whether to accept Theresa May’s deal to be left to MPs only.

She urges MPs to consider what would happen if “this house forces an outcome on the people of this country that they no longer desire”.

She adds: “The people started this process . . . it is the people who should choose that on the terms now on offer they still wish to proceed.”

She adds that the European Union needs reform and that the UK could help with tha reform or just walk away.

Government prepares Friday for business

The government is moving a motion tonight that would clear the way for a possible vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal on Friday, writes the FT’s George Parker.

Friday was due to be a non-sitting day. Downing St is saying this is a precautionary measure: there could be a vote on her deal on Thursday or Friday – or not at all.

If MPs’ finally vote for May’s deal at the third time of asking, then tonight’s action would be largely irrelevant. But to be put before MPs, the deal would first need to pass the speaker’s hurdles of being substantively different to the last attempt.

Brexit secretary pours scorn on options

Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary is on his feet, dealing with all the options facing MPs and explaining the government position on all of them.

In essence, he says the government has made it clear there will not be a no deal, it will not consider supporting revocation and then starts nit-picking some of the assertions made by other proposers. Not least he says the claim by Stephen Kinnock that free movement can be controlled by an emergency brake, is not true. He says that brake already exists under EU law but the UK does not use it because it does not have a registration system for immigrants which would require ID cards.

Not surprisingly, he concludes by saying May’s deal is the only option left to MPs.

Labour recommends abstaining on revocation

Ben Bradshaw, the Labour backbench MP, has highlighted the fact that the Labour whips have not ordered MPs to reject her option, rather to consider abstaining.

Option L – revoke Article 50 if no deal is the alternative

Joanna Cherry of the Scottish National Party is putting forward her proposal, which she drew up together with Dominic Grieve, the former Tory attorney general, that would see the UK revoke the legislation to leave the EU should MPs find no compromise deal.

She insists Tories should back it because it is in line with what Theresa May said earlier this week, that no deal will not happen unless the Commons allows it. The Labour party, she argues, has rejected no deal in its manifesto.

Mr Grieve points out that this option is there as a “fail safe” and a last resort to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU.

Father of the House speaks

Ken Clarke, the longest serving MP and former Tory chancellor, is running through why his proposal, option J, is the way forward, even as he notes Brexiter oppostion to May’s deal now seem to be crumbling.
Option J is a customs unions with the EU, proposed with Labour’s Hilary Benn, which he says has the widest amount of support in the House and will remove any issues around the controversial Northern Ireland backstop.

The view of the FT’s Hency Mance is that while meeting one of Labour’s main Brexit demands, this proposal would infuriate many Tory MPs, including some Europhiles, who argue there is little point leaving the EU while continuing to be bound by the bloc’s trade agreements.

Labour’s official position

Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, is now presenting Labour’s official option, option K. This involves membership of a customs union with the EU, plus a “strong relationship” with the bloc’s single market. Critics say the plan is too vague, and it has virtually no Conservative support.

Sir Keir also explains that Labour will be supporting option J – Ken Clarke’s proposal for a customs union with the EU – and option M – Margaret Beckett’s proposal for a second referendum.

He also says Labour does recognise Option D, which was just proposed, is worth keeping on the table and urged Labour MPs to support that as well.

Deal switchers continue

Conor Burns, vice chair of the European Research Group of MPs, has just announced he is now supporting May’s Brexit deal, writes the FT’s Seb Payne.

This matters not only because he is another vote for the PM, writes Seb, but because he is a former parliamentary aide to Boris Johnson and has been intensely involved in his leadership efforts. If Burns is backing the deal, then Johnson may not be far behind.

Bercow blocks any MV3 workaround

Crucially – when Bercow said he would block an attempt to bring back May’s Brexit deal for a third time unless there were “substantive changes” – he also made clear that he wouldn’t allow the government to use a ‘paving motion’ to get round the problem.

The FT’s Henry Mance writes a ‘paving motion’ would have allowed a majority of MPs to insist of having a vote – on the so-called meaningful vote 3, or MV3 – even though the deal has not changed.

“The tabling office has been instructed that no such motions will be accepted,” said Mr Bercow.

So, Henry writes, Theresa May has two huge hurdles to passing her deal – to win a majority of MPs and to convince the speaker the deal has changed.

Moral duty

Nick Boles, the Tory backbencher and joint proposer of option D, says MPs have a “moral duty” to consider a new way forward to break the Brexit impasse in Parliament. He seeks to assuage concerns that this would allow freedom of movement of EU nationals – one of the PMs red lines – by assuring MPs there would be an “emergency brake” in place to halt movement to affected regions.

Bringing together leavers and remainers

Stephen Kinnock claims his proposal (see below) “brings together leavers and remainers” unlike any of the others, he adds.

“It is time to rediscover the lost art of compromise,” he says.

Option D – Common Market 2.0

The speaker has asked each proposer of the selected 8 options to talk for no more than 5 minutes. We are currently on the second option the so-called Common Market 2.0 proposed by Conservative MP Nick Boles and Labour’s Stephen Kinnock (below).
Also known as Norway plus, this is, in effect, Mrs May’s deal plus membership of a customs union and the single market.

PM’s Brexit deal coming back on Friday?

A Conservative MP tells the FT’s Laura Hughes that they have been told to keep their diaries free on Friday. That MP said the whips were “bellowing it in the lobbies” during the vote – sparking speculation that Theresa May will try again with her Brexit deal at the end of the week.

The options in detail

All 8 options will be debated and amendment B has already been aired. This is the No Deal option proposed by John Baron, the Tory Brexiter:

Supported by hardline Eurosceptic Conservative MPs, this would see the UK start trading with the EU on World Trade Organization terms after April 12. The idea has already been rejected twice by a majority of MPs, who fear huge economic disruption.

Bercow warns on plans to bring back PM’s Brexit deal for a vote

John Bercow is telling MPs that if Downing Street want to bring Theresa May’s deal back to the Commons, which could happen as early as tomorrow or Friday, the government must meet the “test of change”. He set this test out last week when he said he would block an attempt to bring back the Brexit deal for a third time unless there were “substantive changes”

You can read that story here

The 8 Brexit options

The speaker John Bercow has selected the following amendments for voting today:

B) John Baron’s proposal for a no-deal Brexit on April 12

D) Nick Boles’s proposal for Common Market 2.0

H) George Eustice’s proposal for single market membership

J) Ken Clarke’s proposal for a customs union with the EU

K) Labour’s plan for an alternative Brexit deal

L) Joanna Cherry’s proposal to revoke Article 50 if the alternative is a no-deal Brexit

M) Margaret Beckett’s proposal for a second referendum

O) Marcus Fysh’s proposal for trading relationship with the EU in case of a no-deal Brexit

Speaker selects 8 amendments for indicative vote

John Bercow has announced he will allow amendments B, D, H, J, K, L, M, O to to an indicative vote, which will be on printed ballots. We will get you the details of the 8 shortly.

MPs vote to seize control of parliament

The motion to take controls of the Commons agenda has passed by 331 votes to 287. No surprise there then, bigger victory than on Monday.

Will she or won’t she?

In all the chaos around Westminster it would now seem the prime minister will not offer to quit, explicitly at least, according to the FT’s political editor George Parker.

Those close to Theresa May are saying they don’t expect to explicitly offer her resignation to Tory MPs at the 5pm 1922 committee meeting, rather allude to the need for “a new approach” to negotiating with the EU in the second phase, if we ever get there. Nudge nudge, wink wink. ERG will hold in reserve the right to vote down the Withdrawal Agreement bill if she doesn’t set a timetable for her resignation if she does eventually get her Brexit deal through. “It’s a blunt instrument but it’s there, nonetheless,” said one senior Tory Eurosceptic MP.

MPs to vote on motion allowing them to seize control

The debate about whether to vote for the motion to take control of the Commons is over and MPs are now voting in the traditional manner. Worth remembering the motion that has got us here today, allowing MPs to take control, was passed on Monday by 329 votes to 302 in yet another defeat for the government.

We should have result on this vote in about 10 to 15 minutes.

Gove warns on no deal impact on Northern Ireland agriculture

Elsewhere in Westminter, Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has admitted the UK government’s plans for no deal would place Northern Ireland’s agriculture and food sectors at a “significant” disadvantage.

Britain has set out proposals to set up a different customs regime for Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK in a no-deal Brexit to ensure there is no hard border on between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Under the plans, Britain would not impose any duties or checks on goods crossing the land border into Northern Ireland, regardless of whether they come from the EU or beyond.

It would open up Northern Ireland’s goods market to competition from across the world, while introducing checks for products crossing the Irish Sea to the rest of the UK.

Speaking in front of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee earlier on Wednesday, Mr Gove said said this could put the region’s industries at a “significant disadvantage”.

Constitutional position on MPs seizing control

The debate about whether MPs should be allowed to seize control of Commons business continues and the debate is focused on whether it is unconstitutional. It’s worth bearing in mind that the UK has no written constitution.

The FT’s Henry Mance explains:

The constitutional position is pretty clear: the UK is a parliamentary democracy, and if parliament (the Commons + the Lords) passes a law, then the government is obliged to follow it. The indicative votes themselves won’t amount to a law. They have political, rather than strict legal, force. However, it’s arguable that even then there is a convention that the government should obey the will of the Commons. Dominic Grieve, the Europhile former attorney-general, said today that it would set an “extremely undesireable precedent” for the government to ignore resolutions of MPs, although he conceded the precedent had already been set by the government’s failure to contest Opposition Day motions since last year.

Jacob Rees-Mogg said it was “irregular” for MPs to be taking control of the parliamentary agenda. It’s certainly unusual: the government has had control of the Commons order paper since the 1870s, when it moved to prevent Irish nationalists from fillibustering. But there are days when the government cedes control of the order paper, for example to the Opposition (for Opposition day debates) and to backbenchers (for private members’ bills). One of the Opposition’s complaints is that the government has not allocated Opposition Days recently.

Theresa May may decide that she doesn’t want to implement any decision from the Commons (just as David Cameron didn’t want to implement the result of the referendum). But ignoring the result isn’t her only option: she could also resign, or call a general election.

Government officially opposing the motion

To highlight the “intricacies” of UK parliamentary procedure, Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, is officially opposing the motion for MPs to take control, even though the government already lost the vote on Monday by 329 votes to 302. Meanwhile, Labour is backing the motion.

Main debate expected from 3pm

Given the unusual nature of proceedings in parliament this afternoon, we thought we would ask the FT’s Henry Mance to clarify what is going on.

MPs are currently debating the so-called Business Motion (which is the procedural step for the indicative votes to happen today). Assuming that passes, then they move to the debate on the options.

So the process of taking control has started but the substantive debate on the options may not start till about 3pm. Before that the Speaker of the House, John Bercow, will select which proposed amendments MPs will be allowed.

More details from the chief whip

Julian Smith, the government chief whip, has also confirmed MPs will have a free vote on the indicative votes this evening but will also oppose the motion that allows those indicative votes to take place. All members of cabinet will abstain, he confirms.

He also confirms the three line whip will be in place for the vote on the so-called statutory instrument that moves the date of Brexit beyond March 29, in line with the delay May agreed to in Brussels last week. The debate on the so-called SI is expected to start from 7.30pm, the chief whip says, with the debate lasting for up to 90 minutes.

In a note to MPs, Mr Smith added:

The Government will be voting aye. The SI is to ensure that our domestic law matches international law. Should you have any queries on this, please feel welcome to contact the Attorney General.

Can MPs mandate the government?

Sir Oliver Letwin, the architect of the indicative votes process, claims that if parliament takes a very strong view of how Brexit should proceed, it would be “not unlawful” for the House to then mandate the government to do what it says.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Brexiter backbencher, says such as process would be “deeply constitutionally irregular”.

Sir Oliver says Mr Rees-Mogg’s view is “manifestly false” because parliament has controlled its own proceedings “right from the very beginning” and that the amendment of standing orders is a “perfectly proper way” to move towards telling government how to proceed.

Mr Rees Mogg says that if parliament takes it upon itself to run the country, the principle of sovereignty (where the Queen mandates the winner of a general election to govern) will be eroded.

Tory free vote confirmed

The FT’s Jim Pickard has confirmed that Theresa May will give her MPs a free vote on Wednesday evening as the House of Commons holds a set of “indicative votes” on alternative ways forward through the Brexit impasse – although the cabinet will be ordered to abstain.

The decision will infuriate some Eurosceptic MPs, who – by contrast – will be whipped to back the government’s secondary legislation (which will also be voted on this evening) moving the date of Brexit forward beyond the date of March 29.

But electing to give her MPs a free vote, the prime minister has avoided another rash of resignations by Europhile ministers – following a trio who quit on Monday night.

Tory MPs to get free vote tonight

It looks like Conservative whips have opted to give their MPs free votes tonight, while cabinet ministers will supposedly abstain, in contrast to Labour’s position that we flagged below. This, at least, is according to Tory backbencher James Cartlidge, who Tweeted a few minutes ago:

Whips just confirmed #indicativevotes will be free votes with Cabinet abstaining.

Oliver Letwin: we must compromise

Sir Oliver Letwin, who has earned the nickname “The Prime Minister for West Dorset”, has stood up to explain why he and a group of cross-party colleagues have organised today’s indicative votes about the kind of Brexit parliament wants.

He explains that he is hoping for parliament to reach a majority, but for MPs to achieve this, they all must compromise on what their ideal outcome of the Brexit process will be.

What he is hoping to avoid, he explains, is the indicative votes simply resulting in parliament stating what it does not want. Following the votes, he recommends, parlimentarians should talk among themselves and find as many opportunities for compromising towards a majority as they can.

Labour to whip 4 amendments tonight

At last the fog has lifted on Labour’s position on tonight’s votes, writes the FT’s Jim Pickard. Jeremy Corbyn will whip his MP to back four different amendments: his own, two on customs unions (from Ken Clarke and Gareth Snell) and the one calling for a confirmatory referendum on any Tory Brexit (from Margaret Beckett and Peter Kyle). That last one will please the Labour grassroots members and the People’s Vote campaign. Curiously though Labour is arguing that it doesn’t think there should be a second referendum if it gets into power and pushes its own form of soft Brexit. At the same time Corbyn is giving the nod to MPs to back the Norway-style “Common Market 2.0” plan to stay in the single market. He won’t whip them to vote for it but a spokesman said he would be “encouraging support for Norway-plus”.

A twist to a third vote for May’s deal

The FT’s George Parker adds:

Incidentally, No 10 aren’t denying that they might try to pull a curious manouevre this week where Mrs May would seek approval only for her withdrawal agreement – which Labour broadly supports – but not for the accompanying political declaration which sets out ambitions to form a close EU/UK partnership that falls short of full customs union/single market membership.

Why would they do that? Well the European Council conclusions last Friday said that Britain had to approve only the withdrawal agreement by the end of this week if the EU is to grant a delay to Brexit until May 22, not the political declaration. So the idea would have its appeal.

But there are two significant downsides. Labour has indicated it would not support a “blind Brexit” where it approved just the legally binding text (including the Irish backstop, the £39bn divorce bill and citizens rights) without the accompanying political declaration on the future.

Secondly under the terms of the 2018 EU Withdrawal Act Britain can only leave the EU after the Commons has had a meaningful vote on the entire exit package: withdrawal agreement and political declaration. So it would only be pain deferred.

Will May quit, wait till after 5pm

A lot of comment on Twitter about Theresa May’s spirited performance at PMQs, prompting speculation she has now reconciled herself to quitting as PM and the weight of office has lifted off her shoulders, writes the FT’s political editor George Parker.

Interestingly, she didn’t rule out setting a timetable for her resignation when challenged by the SNP’s Ian Blackford.

In the post-PMQs lobby briefing there wasn’t a straight denial that she intended to quit, rather an invitation to wait until the PM’s appearance before a mass meeting of Tory MPs at 5pm tonight. Mrs May’s spokesman did, however, remind journalists that the PM had previously spoken about “the other things she wants to achieve in politics”.

For what it’s worth I had just started working in the lobby in 1990 when Margaret Thatcher gave her very spirited valedictory speech as PM, having just announced her resignation. “I’m enjoying this,” she said to cheers from MPs, many of whom had hours earlier been calling for her head. May’s performance wasn’t quite in that category, but there were similarities. On the other hand, she might just have been enjoying the discomfort of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson falling in behind her deal

Motion to take control of the Commons agenda

Oliver Letwin is now standing up in the Commons to introduce his motion, passed on Monday, to allow MPs to take control this afternoon. The debate proper starts at 2pm

Conservative Party coffers run dry

Our reporters Sebastian Payne and Laura Hughes have produced this scoop about how the Tory party has just £1.5m left in its coffers as donors have turned their backs on Theresa May.

Some highlights from the story:

– Some funders are holding off on fresh donations while Mrs May remains in power.

– The cash crunch is prompting concerns that the party may not be able to fight any general election that comes about as a result of Brexit (such as the scenario where Mrs May refuses to countenance alternative methods for leaving the EU to her deal, and this causes parliament to be dissolved).

– Those holding money back include wealthy Eurosceptics who want a new prime minister and a harder version of Brexit.

Calls for extra security at Westminster

Vicky Ford, Conservative MP for Chelmsford, raises the problem of MPs’ security as emotions around Brexit run high.

Ms Ford says that, in order to enter her workplace from the tube, “one has to walk past a large poster saying ‘death’ and then beneath it the words ‘to democracy'”.

She adds that while it is unclear what the “death wish” poster means, “there can be ‘no place in our public life for intimidation of members of parliament or their staff.”

The MP adds:

Can we ask to look again at the way in which the right to freedom of speech versus intimidation of those in public life’ is being balanced?

Speaker John Bercow recognises the ‘delicate balance’ between freedom of speech and a safe space for parlimentarians, staff and reporters, and says the House has made representations to the Metropolitan Police to ‘make the case for a more proactive’ approach to policing at Westminster.

He adds that while his job is not to be ‘the poster policeman’ he is worried that many of the threats to MPs have been to female parlimentarians.

No sign of support from DUP

The Democratic Unionist Party are still insisting they will not back the PM’s deal as it threatens the integrity of the UK, writes the FT’s Laura Hughes.

Diane Dodds, the DUP’s MEP, told the European Parliament this morning:

The DUP wants to leave the European Union in an orderly fashion but this deal will endanger the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK.”

It is not a price that we as Unionists are willing to pay

What’s happening later on?

For anyone who has just tuned into the Brexit drama, today is a big day because MPs will later attempt to seize control of the process by voting on alternative plans to Theresa May’s exit package.

Here is a very good summary of the situation by the FT’s Henry Mance.

A round-up:

– Sixteen alternative forms of Brexit, on which MPs will cast so-called indicative votes have been put forward.

– Speaker John Bercow will select which of the 16 options MPs will vote on from about 7pm. This will not be in the traditional manner of the “division” process where MPs walk through one of two corridors or lobbies (one representing those in favour, the other against). Instead MPs will vote “yes” or “no” on each of the options on a single ballot paper.

– After the results come in at around 9pm, the PM would technically have the choice of disregarding the result as the vote is classed as indicative.

– Sir Oliver Letwin, a Conservative backbencher and one of a cross-party group of MPs who organised the indicative voting process, told Radio 4 earlier today that if Mrs May ignored what parliament wanted, MPs could attempt to push through legislation to “mandate” her to listen to them.

Question time is over

So that’s it from the chamber of the House of Commons for now, with prime minister’s question time over. The focus now shifts to the Speaker of the House, John Bercow, who needs to whittle down a long list of amendments put forward by backbenchers for the indicative vote later.

May to force through vote on her deal and quit?

Although today is meant to be all about MPs seizing control of the Brexit agenda, Theresa May looks set to try for a third vote on her deal with the EU before the end of the week,write the FT’s Jim Pickard and Henry Mance.

Earlier in the week it looked like the PM was going to have to give up on her plan but she has become emboldened by a clutch of Eurosceptic Tory MPs reluctantly swung behind the plan.

The British prime minister has already had her exit pact defeated twice in the Commons by huge margins at the hands of opposition parties and scores of her own MPs.

But with the government starting to lose control of the Brexit process, Downing St believes that the voting numbers could be much closer if a vote is held on Thursday or Friday.

During PMQs, Mrs May told one rebel MP that “if this week he and others support the deal” then Brexit could soon go ahead. Those words were immediately seen as a signal that the third “meaningful vote” – nicknamed MV3 – could come before the weekend.

Speculation is growing that the prime minister could announce her departure date to secure support for her deal to leave the EU.

Mrs May is scheduled to address Tory backbenchers on Wednesday afternoon, with several Eurosceptics saying that her Brexit deal stands no chance of being approved unless she makes clear that she will step down immediately after the UK leaves the EU.

Another resignation call

They are piling up.

This time the call comes from Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne Central, who says that the prime minister’s handling of Brexit has left the UK’s global reputation “trashed”.

Ms Onwurah is merely echoing a call for Mrs May to leave by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. That similar sentiments have been shared publicly by members of Mrs May’s own party is a more interesting development. Earlier in PMQs, Conservative backbencher Andrew Bridgen said his constituents in Leicestershire “will never trust” the PM again.

Brexit tribes

For those wanting to find out more about the hardline Brexiter MPs who are now switching over the Theresa May’s deal as the FT’s political correspondent, Sebastian Payne, pointed a bit earlier on our blog. Why not have a look at the interactive guide Seb helped put together in February. Just plug in the MPs name and it will give you more details on how they have previously voted. For instance, Rehman Chishti, who resigned as a vice chairman of the Tory party last November over May’s deal, declared yesterday that he would now back it.

For full interactive graphic click here

Below is the an example of the information you get when you plug Chishti’s name in:

Fraudulent use of revoke Article 50 online petition

Tory backbencher Maggie Throup had earlier suggested the parliamentary e-petitions system needs reform, pointing out that people are able to sign petitions from around the world.

The issue has come up because of the petition to revoke Article 50, which has so far received more than 5.8 million signatures, amid claims that people are signing it more than once.

Theresa May says she has been assuredthat fraudulent signatories are removed.

Ian Blackford, leader of the SNP at Westminster, asks the PM to recognise the large number of people who signed the petition. The PM retorts by asking him whether the SNP is still the Remain party or whether it now backs a second referendum. She argues out that remaining in the EU would mean remaining in the Common Agricultural Policy, which she says is damaging to Scottish farmers. Worth remembering that Scotland voted to remain by 62% to 38% in 2016.

Conservative Brexiters switch sides

Slowly but steadily, the Brexiters are switching sides, Sebastian Payne writes.
Thanks to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s change of heart, which the former arch-Brexiter described in a Daily Mail article, his colleagues in the European Research Group are gradually following suit.

So when Theresa May brings her deal back to the House of Commons for another meaningful vote – expect on Thursday or Friday – she can count on the support of more Eurosceptics.

Lucy Allen, a long-standing Brexit-supporting MP for Telford, has told the FT she is now reluctantly backing the deal. As is John Whittingdale, the former culture secretary. As is Robert Coults, the MP for Witney. As is Royston Smith from Southampton Itchen. So far around a dozen MPs who voted against the deal last time are now on side with the government.

There are still 60 or so Eurosceptics set against the prime minister and until this number whittles towards zero, she has no hope of passing her deal. Many more ERG MPs are mulling over whether to switch sides and are likely to announce so throughout today. But for many, the leadership question will be critical. If Mrs May announces a departure plan or timetable at a meeting of Tory MPs this evening, more are likely to fall into line.

Labour undecided over referendum support

Labour had been indicating – privately and publicly – that it would back an amendment for a second referendum of some sort but no decision has yet been made, writes the FT’s Jim Pickard.

The vehicle for this manoeuvre is the ‘Kyle-Wilson’ amendment from two Labour backbenchers, which would commit Parliament to a second referendum on whatever deal gets through the Commons.

Peter Kyle, one of the duo, said the amendment – now under the name of Margaret Beckett – had been backed by Jeremy Corbyn, pronouncing: “He will order MPs to vote for this.”

But there is growing speculation that some Labour front-benchers in Leave seats could resign tonight if it became policy, writes Jim, in fear of a backlash from their Brexit-supporting constituents. Barry Gardiner, shadow trade secretary, also suggested this morning that the party would not back the motion, arguing that the idea “implies that you are a Remain party”.

Corbyn: the PM is unable to govern

The opposition leader calls for Mrs May to “change course” on Brexit or “to go”.

Mrs May again ignores the resignation question and reverts to her plans for making extra money available for the police, schools, local councils and tax cuts. Mrs May claims Mr Corbyn’s economic policies would prompt a drop in the pound and cut living standards.

Corbyn: our proposals are better than your’s

You could be forgiven for thinking Mrs May and Mr Corbyn’s plans for EU withdrawal are rather similar.

The Labour leader says his plans, however, are a “baseline” that take existing EU standards on issues such as workers’ rights and plan to improve upon them.

Mrs May responds that “what we are going to do on workers’ rights is say no we won’t simply accept automatically what the European Union does,” but listen to parliament and accept what MPs want.

Corbyn: the PM is going against the business community

Mr Corbyn says these are “strange times” when a Conservative prime minister goes against the interests of the business community, which he says wants to remain in the customs union.

Mrs May says Mr Corbyn has “never explained” why he wants to “abandon” an independent trade policy.

Mr Corbyn reiterates that the PM has no deal that has been supported by this house and that Labour proposals not only provide for a customs union but also safeguards workers’ rights and environmental standards.

Mrs May says her team has been negotiating in order to protect jobs, and it is absolutely clear in her political declaration that there will be “no falling back in workers’ rights”.

“The Labour Party can never stand it when they are told Conservatives are standing up for workers,” Mrs May concludes, to cheers from her party.

What is the Plan B?

This question comes from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Mrs May says her deal gives the best options and that others “risk never delivering Brexit.”

Mr Corbyn shoots back with the argument that Mrs May’s deal has already been defeated twice in the House of Commons. He repeats his argument that the UK should stay in the EU customs union.

Mrs May says her deal delivers the benefits of a customs union, but gives Britain more independence to negotiate other trade deals.

Trust “has gone”

The Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, Andrew Bridgen, argues people of his constituency have lost trust in the PM over her Brexit delay.

Call for a resignation

Stewart Hosie, of the SNP, has asked the prime minister when she will resign.
Mrs May answers that her Brexit deal delivers on the result of the referendum, and accuses Mr Hosie of wanting to keep the UK in the EU. She does not address the resignation question.

Theresa May stands for questions

Europe hopes for resolution

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, said this morning that the European Parliament should be open to a long Brexit extension or risk betraying pro-EU voters in the UK.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit lead, tweeted that he hoped the voting today would be the start of a cross-party cooperation to break the deadlock

May under pressure

Meanwhile, pressure is growing Theresa May to set a timetable for her to step down to secure backing of Brexit-backing MPs at a meeting of her backbenchers at 5pm. After the meeting – and if she feels confident of having won their support – she could reveal when the vote will take place for her deal. Andrea Leadsom, leader of the House of Commons, indicated this morning that this could be tomorrow or Friday.

May has been given some encouragement for her deal overnight given the backing of Jacob Rees-Mogg. He warned, like Boris Johnson, of the risk of no Brexit at all

Voting to start at 2pm

There are 16 proposals tabled by different groups of MPs but speaker John Bercow will choose which will be voted on this evening – likely to cover a range of harder and softer Brexit options, along with plans to revoke article 50 and hold a second referendum. Full details of the amendments from the FT’s Henry Mance are here. The PM has yet to say whether the party whip will be imposed on Tories taking part in the votes.

MPs take control

Good morning and welcome to an unusual day in the UK parliament, where from 2pm MPs will take control of business and hold votes to find out what sort of deal might win the support of a majority to allow Brexit to proceed.


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