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Brexit log jam in London: New plans, same problem

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Theresa May addressed the House of Commons, admitting the Government currently lacks the parliamentary support to hold a third vote on its Brexit deal (Screenshot via YouTube)

The British Parliament has voted to extend the deadline for seceding from Europe from Friday until mid-April but has failed to vote for a consensus on what to do.

Lee Duffield says he stopped making a straw poll of Australian observers after getting a very early consistency of comments: “silly pommie parliament”, “incompetent mob” and so on.

In this update, he says there is surprise and exasperation in Europe also.

THE MEMBERS of the House of Commons voted last Monday by 329 to 302 for its members to take over control of the parliamentary agenda from the Prime Minister Theresa May and her Government.

Under the authority of the Speaker, John Bercow, they set up a vote using paper ballots which took place early on Thursday morning, 28 March Australian time, on eight possible solutions. None of those got a majority in the 650-member house.

They did grab at an offer from the European Union to change the date, set under European and British law, for the United Kingdom to leave the EU. The vote on that was 441 to 105, the old cut-off date was Friday 29 March and the new date is Friday 12 April.

WHAT NEXT?

The BBC reported that the Parliament could try again on Friday or on Monday 1 April.

The vote on the eight motions to attempt to find a consensus has been called a “short-listing” process, so some of those proposals might come back.

Theresa May has continued seeking support for a third vote on the draft Withdrawal Agreement made with the EU, which would have let “Brexit” happen, but was twice heavily defeated. The Speaker has suggested that debate on a rebuilt version of this Withdrawal Agreement might be allowed. She has told her MPs she will resign if they approve it for her, to let a “new team” complete the last negotiations.

With that, pro-Brexit Conservatives who have been fighting tooth and nail against the deal, because it did not provide the separation they wanted, began to waver. However, the conservative northern Irish party, the DUP, which normally provides the Prime Minister with numbers, has continued opposing the deal. It argues that under the terms of the deal their province would be set apart from the rest of the UK.   

For all those interested enough to concentrate for a short time on the options, Politico has published an explanation setting those out with a very clear graphic.

WHAT DOES THE EUROPEAN UNION SAY?

The European Union has had three expectations: (a) that the British referendum decision was in favour of separation, and Britain’s activation of a so-called “Article 50” separation under European law would take effect by the set date, 29 March; (b) that once it had negotiated a draft Withdrawal Agreement approved to by all its 28 members, that would be the deal; and (c) that the British would have a plan for effecting their separation from Europe.

Several leaders of member states, including Emmanuel Macron of France and senior EU executives, have been losing patience. However, being concerned about the economic costs of a no-deal separation to parties on both sides and led by experienced figures like Germany’s Angela Merkel, they have now allowed more time.

The latest terms were summed up by the Politico news service on Monday:

‘EU leaders taking control of Brexit (or at least its date) at their summit last Thursday and Friday (21 and 22 March) set out two scenarios: an orderly mid-April Brexit, or a longer extension to keep open the possibility of a longer delay, which might lead to Britain staying in the Union.’

WORKING THE NUMBERS AT WESTMINSTER

In the voting on the eight proposals put to the British Parliament:

Proposals for seeking a customs union with Europe, in effect a semi-separation, got 264 votes (against 272). A proposal to walk out with no agreement identified the level of support for a hard-line exit at any cost, with 160 votes (against 400). A call for a second referendum on the draft Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the Government with the European Union got the most votes, 268 (against 295).

Concise explanations on the eight options have been published by the BBC, also with details on the results and the Financial Times.

The parties have not always given their members conscience votes, but in effect, they have been voting freely. It looks like a pattern where the Labour Opposition is a more solid bloc, the Conservatives much more divided. This might explain the drift towards solutions like a customs union or a second referendum, not yet a strong enough trend to get them across the line.

The Opposition Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been to Brussels talking with EU officials. He has suggested a customs union or possibly a vote on the draft Withdrawal Agreement conditional on its being approved also at a “confirmatory” second referendum. An amendment from a Labour member last week, fundamentally altering the Prime Minister’s withdrawal motion, succeeded by 312 to 308, the withdrawal motion then heavily defeated.

However, the Opposition lacks the numbers needed, while several Conservative members would move to block anything that might lead to staying with Europe, or any final settlement initiated by Labour.

Media editor Dr Lee Duffield is a former ABC foreign correspondent, political journalist and academic.

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