The Parliament's Battle With Brexit, Explained For Normal People
Right. OK. Right. So you’ve come back to find out what the hell is happening with Brexit, have you?
In the last episode of BREXIT: The prime minister, Boris Johnson, tried to hold a vote in Parliament on his new Brexit deal on Saturday, but a very British-looking gentleman named Sir Oliver Letwin made a dramatic intervention.
Letwin is a former Tory MP who put forward an amendment that forced Johnson to ask the EU for an extension in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31.
It’s why you may have heard that Johnson spent his Saturday night sending letters to the EU. He was forced, by law, to request an extension to Brexit.
So Brexit delayed right? Well, kinda…not really…not yet.
The biggest problem Johnson and his predecessor, Theresa May, keep running into is the fact that whatever deal the UK strikes with the European Union needs to go before Parliament.
You may have heard of it…it’s what political nerds have been calling the “Meaningful Vote” (MV).
The MV1–MV3 were lost by May. Now the franchise has been rebooted, with Johnson taking the reins of MV4.
Enter the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, who plays the pivotal role of ruling on what comes up for a vote in Parliament. On Monday afternnoon, Bercow decided that Johnson could not have another “Meaningful Vote” on the new Brexit deal struck last week.
Bercow judged that he couldn't have the vote again because parliamentary rules state that the government can’t bring the same motion back twice. Johnson’s attempt on Saturday night counts as his go for this parliamentary session.
So, Johnson is now in a tricky position — he was hoping Parliament could have a straight vote on the deal, secure the majority, and then use the momentum to ram all the legislation through Parliament before the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.
Instead, Johnson looks to be forced to use something called the Withdrawal Agreement Bill — what is referred to as the WAB…like, it rhymes with "dab". Seriously.
So while the Meaningful Vote is a straight-up downvote on the terms of Johnson’s deal with the European Union, the WAB is the package of all the laws that the UK must bring in to actually take the country out of the EU.
First up, the government has to pass its programme motion for the WAB — its timetable for getting the bill through Parliament. The programme motion is extremely controversial because it gives MPs just three days to scrutinise the WAB, which is over 100 pages long.
So there’s a decent chance MPs could block the programme motion, derailing the timetable and making it much harder for Johnson to achieve Brexit by the end of the month.
People also think the WAB will be full of nasty surprises that MPs on all sides of the debate won’t like.
You can expect some Brexiteers who are currently backing the deal to grumble about its contents, maybe even flirt with going against the deal.
More importantly, MPs who either oppose Brexit or who want a softer form of Brexit than the deal agreed by Johnson have the chance to try to attach amendments to the WAB.
TL;DR: Parliament has another chance to fuck with Johnson’s Brexit deal in its current form.
Like, there might be moves to amend the WAB, which forces the government to say that it wants the whole of the UK to stay in a customs union with the EU.
As it currently stands, Johnson’s Brexit deal takes the UK out of the customs union.
Here’s another: There could be an amendment to put Johnson’s Brexit deal to a second referendum.
The key to whether the customs union amendment has a majority is expected to be the votes of the Democratic Unionist Party.
They were big fans of Johnson’s Brexit before he shafted them by agreeing with the EU on putting a customs border in the Irish Sea — something the DUP insists threatens the union.
The DUP could decide to get their revenge on Johnson by backing this softer, UK-wide customs union amendment. But...but, remember, the DUP are hardline Brexiteers and may decide a customs union for the whole UK is not sufficiently Brexity. And there are already Tory MPs shifting their position on it too.
Now, if this customs union amendment secures a majority in Parliament, Johnson’s negotiated deal looks like toast.
Johnson then has a choice: Accept that Parliament wants to stay in a customs union with the European Union and add it to the deal. Or does he say “Hang on, that’s not Brexit” and pull the WAB?
If Johnson chooses option one, he could get a customs union deal through Parliament by the end of the month, or shortly afterwards, and so the UK could leave the EU relatively soon.
Then, with a head of steam, Johnson holds an election and tries to overturn the customs union afterwards.
If Johnson chooses option two, another Brexit delay is inevitable. He would try to call an election — after all, remember Jeremy Corbyn said he’d back one once the extension was secured — and then ask the country to vote for him based on the negotiated Brexit deal.
Of course, if all this parliamentary chicanery with amendments ultimately fails, Johnson could end up getting a clean vote on the WAB.