The Brexit battle in the UK parliament is picking up where it left off after the Christmas break as Theresa May prepares for a defining moment of her premiership: the “meaningful vote” on her Withdrawal Agreement, scheduled for Tuesday 15 January.
No changes of heart
There is little sign that the prime minister has any more chance in the coming days of winning over rebel Conservative MPs and the Democratic Unionist Party than she did before the holiday. Downing Street pins its hopes on the EU offering reassurance of prolonged trade talks with the UK to avoid the Irish backstop. Whether this will move any Tory Brexiters or DUP MPs is unclear.
The prime minister is losing control of the process as parliament asserts itself. Yesterday, a majority of MPs passed a cross-party amendment to a finance bill. The amendment would prevent the government using some tax powers without first consulting parliament in the event of no deal. Downing Street downplayed the defeat as an “inconvenience” and they could be right: MPs still can’t agree on any other kind of Brexit, and until they do, no-deal remains the default. Today, MPs voted on an amendment requiring the government to come up with a ‘Plan B’ by early in the week after a defeat. It had intended to do this within 21 sitting days – or potentially mid-February. The prime minister may need a new strategy as her current one is not getting her any new allies.
Running out of time
So what next? No-one seems to know. What we do know is MPs are not in the mood to wait much longer for a viable plan. They, unlike the prime minister, have options: MPs could call for a vote of no confidence, a general election or even a new referendum. The prime minister is working with a short timeline, giving her limited time to gain fresh concessions from Brussels or fresh converts in parliament.