Parliament aims to offer alternative Brexit

Democratic Unionist Party Brexit Spokesman, Sammy Wilson, says it is better to have a year’s delay to Brexit than to support Theresa May’s bad deal. Credit: By Ian Davidson Photography

Britain’s Parliament will begin the process of establishing what type of Brexit it would like to see by debating and voting today on 16 proposals put forward by Members of Parliament (MPs).

On 25 March MPs voted to seize control of the Brexit process, handing Prime Minister Theresa May’s Government yet another defeat on her Brexit plans. MPs will begin to look at proposals that range from a customs union to repealing Article 50 and halting the withdrawal process altogether.

The process will see Parliament debate each of the 16 proposals and vote to rule out the least popular choices by the end of today, around 10:00 p.m. local time. Then, by a further process of reduction on Monday, April 1, the choices will be reduced to a single measure that will be put to Government.

These votes are indicative of the view of Parliament and as such do not compel the Government to act on the MPs’ decision. Should May choose to ignore Parliament, MPs could attempt to introduce legislation that would compel the Government to follow Parliament’s lead.

The MPs’ decision to take control of the Brexit process has paradoxically pushed support for May’s withdrawal deal up as Brexiteers such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading light in the hard Brexit-backing European Research Group, say that he would effectively hold his nose and vote for May’s “bad deal.”

Rees-Mogg apologized for changing tack but said that May’s bad deal was better than a no deal or a lengthy extension, and the fear is that Parliament will produce a consensus for a softer Brexit. However, he said that his support is contingent on support for the deal from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), but that seemed unlikely.

In the Daily Telegraph, the DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson wrote, “There are some colleagues who I admire greatly and who have stood firmly with us in defending Northern Ireland who now take the view that the withdrawal agreement, even though it is a rotten deal, is better than losing Brexit. To them I say that, if the deal goes through, we have lost our right to leave the EU. If we sign up to it, we give away our right to leave to the whim and dictates of the EU. That is not Brexit.”

Wilson also said that, unlike Rees-Mogg, he and the DUP would be happy to see a delay of around a year because it would at least allow the DUP to have a say in their future.

It is expected that May will return her deal to Parliament this week, either Thursday or Friday. However, without the support of the DUP it is still unlikely that it would gain the support of the House of Commons. It is also unclear whether the Speaker of the House will allow the Government to return the deal for a third vote, given his ruling after the second meaningful vote that the Government cannot return the deal without substantial changes.

Meanwhile, MPs will debate at least three different versions of the customs union that will come under scrutiny, and all three would scrap the existing customs union in favor of a new bilateral deal. All customs union proposals would establish tariff-free trade and would not require the Irish backstop.

Other options would be to revoke Article 50, the legal instrument for leaving the EU, which would effectively halt the withdrawal process. Neither the Conservative nor the Labour Party support this proposal.

Another view is for the U.K. to join the European Free Trade Association or the European Economic Area, rejecting the need for a customs union, but this replaces the Irish backstop with “alternative arrangements,” an idea that has already been rejected by the EU.