Expectations in Parliament are that Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to lose today’s vote on the Withdrawal Agreement, with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) indicating it will vote against the deal.
In addition, the Conservative Brexiteer group, known as the European Research Group (ERG), has been advised by its lawyers that not much has changed following May’s latest agreements with the European Union (EU).
ERG leader and Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Jacob Rees Mogg said that the ERG will meet at 5:00 p.m. local time and will discuss the lawyer’s advice, but that one of the risks of rejecting May’s deal could be to lose Brexit altogether.
“We will have to discuss that [if Brexit could be lost] and whether that’s a real possibility or a phantom threat. My feeling is it’s a phantom threat, but we will see,” said Mogg.
He went on to say that the most likely outcome would be that the ERG will reject May’s deal.
The Prime Minister’s slim majority in Parliament, a margin narrowed by the defection of three Tory Members of Parliament to The Independent Group, will be wiped out by the move of the DUP and the Brexiteer European Research Group, a group of MPs committed to a hard Brexit within the Conservative Party.
Numerically it is expected that May will be defeated in tonight’s vote. The question then will be by what margin? A defeat by a significant number, around 100 votes, could put May’s position as Prime Minister in jeopardy. A narrower loss would leave Parliament, business and the rest of the country in limbo.
Once the vote is confirmed at 7:00 p.m. local time the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has indicated that Labour will push to put the question of leave without a deal, May’s deal or remain back to the electorate in order to break the deadlock in Parliament.
The DUP has said it cannot support May’s deal following the Attorney General’s advice that the situation after May’s meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, remained substantially the same – that the UK could be caught in the backstop indefinitely.
Juncker said in Strasbourg that there would be no further negotiation with the EU should MPs reject this deal.
The European Parliament will be dissolved following its next meeting this week and will not reconvene again until after the European elections scheduled for May.
If, as expected, the Prime Minister loses the vote tonight, there will be a vote tomorrow (13 March) to decide whether Parliament rejects a no deal Brexit and then on Thursday a further vote will determine whether to request an extension of Article 50, the legal instrument for withdrawing from the EU.
The logistics industry will be watching with dismay at the machinations in Parliament as the one thing the industry has demanded for the last three years is certainty. What the Conservative Government has delivered is increased uncertainty on a grand scale.
Even if the votes on Wednesday and Thursday resolve to reject no deal and to extend Article 50, this will not in itself alter the fact that the UK will leave with no deal. The motions in Parliament will still need Government to change the law, enshrined in Article 50.