The next four days are (obviously!) going to be critical for Brexit. All the signs are that MPs are coming round to backing Boris Johnson’s deal. But Commons procedure is complex and surprises are likely.
Here’s a guide to how the next few days at Westminster might play out.
John Bercow, Commons Speaker, will make a statement at 3.30pm today on whether he will allow a meaningful vote on the Johnson deal to be held this evening. The expectation is he will not allow it for technical reasons (which Hannah White of the Institute for Government explains here). However, Mr Bercow has proved unpredictable.
Even if the Speaker allows the meaningful vote, Downing Street has made clear it will pull it if there are amendments attached that render it “meaningless”. So that reduces the chance of a big vote tonight even further.
The government will begin the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. This is the mammoth piece of legislation (to be published tonight) that brings the Johnson deal into UK law.
There are two key votes here.
First, there will be the first big vote on the WAB (called “second reading”). Assuming there is no meaningful vote on Monday night, this becomes the landmark vote to decide whether the Commons backs Mr Johnson’s deal. Ministers are increasingly confident of victory.
Downing Street’s understanding is that the “second reading” motion cannot be amended or qualified in any way so it’s a straight yes/no vote. It will be hugely significant.
If it passes, the Commons will then immediately vote on a programme motion that will state that the WAB must complete its Commons stages by Friday so it can be on the statute book by October 31 — the day Mr Johnson has pledged to take the UK out of the EU. If this fails to be passed, ministers fear that debate will drag on, delaying Brexit until well into next year.
Wednesday and beyond
If the government wins the second reading vote, the question is whether the WAB is subjected to what Mr Johnson would deem “wrecking” amendments.
At least two key amendments are certain to be put.
One will be an amendment backing the Johnson deal but conditional on a second referendum. Labour looks as though it will back this. But the amendment is unlikely to be passed because the “independent” Tories won’t back it.
The second amendment would be to back Mr Johnson’s deal but only if the UK remains in Europe’s customs union. This is potentially much more threatening for the government because it would undermine the hard Brexit Mr Johnson seeks.
If the customs union vote were to pass, Mr Johnson would have a choice, according to former No 10 adviser Raoul Ruparel.
The prime minister could either accept the amendment and push the deal through, possibly by October 31 and then go to a general election. If he wins with a majority, he could overturn the customs union amendment.
Alternatively, Mr Johnson could drop the amended bill and try to go straight to a general election.
My guess is he will take the first of those options.
In short, we are in for four critical days on Brexit. By the end of the week, we will definitely know whether Britain is on course for an orderly departure on October 31.
Brussels believes it is now time to move on with Brexit “The EU would, I think, still prefer Brexit to be reversed. But the past two months have shown that the risk of a no-deal Brexit is much higher than previously thought. It is one thing for EU officials to say to a journalist that they expect it, quite another to believe it and to act on it.” (Wolfgang Münchau, FT)
A step-by-step guide to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (Jack Simson Caird and Alan Wager, The UK in a Changing Europe)
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