Government defeated on Brexit timetabling amendment

The House of Commons yesterday passed an amendment by 308 votes to 297 obliging the Government to present an alternative plan within three sitting days if the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal is rejected by Parliament on 15 January. The Speaker, John Bercow, selected the amendment, tabled by Conservative MP and former Attorney-General Dominic Grieve, after a consultation with the Commons clerk, despite many MPs claiming the amendment was “not selectable.”

The House of Commons Leader, Andrea Leadsom, called the Speaker’s actions “extremely concerning,” adding that they set “a very damaging precedent” since “instead of being the guardian of the rules, [he] decided to unilaterally change the rules.” Several Conservative Brexiteers submitted an Early Day Motion demanding the publication of the legal advice Bercow received from the Commons clerk. However, Bercow refused to publish the advice, arguing that in selecting the amendment he was “not setting himself up against the government but championing the rights of the House of Commons.”

Elsewhere, speaking in the Commons yesterday, Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer suggested that Labour might be willing to work on a cross-party basis to support a customs union and single market deal, saying, “Obviously, at some stage, if we are to leave other than without a deal there has to be a consensus in this House for something.” According to The Times, Starmer told Conservative MP Ken Clarke that Labour would begin cross-party talks “in the right spirit” if the Prime Minister’s deal was rejected. The Times also reports that Starmer has warned Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn that a second referendum might be the only means of preventing a No Deal exit.

Separately, EU27 ambassadors met yesterday to discuss preparations for the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement by the European Parliament, with an EU diplomat telling the Daily Telegraph, “We are working to make sure that the Brexit agreement is ready to go to MEPs the day after the Brexit deal gets through Westminster…If it gets through.” A Downing Street spokesperson said the Government would “seek to provide certainty, quickly” if the Prime Minister’s deal is defeated next week.

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday said it was important to avoid a No Deal Brexit and to “see the influence of Brexit to the global economy minimised,” adding, “We will continue to work closely with [Prime Minister] Theresa May to help in whatever way we can in the run-up to the [parliamentary] vote.” This comes as May will meet Abe today. Ahead of the meeting May said, “As the UK prepares to leave the EU, we raise our horizons towards the rest of the world. Our relationship with Japan is stronger than ever, and this visit will enhance co-operation in a wide range of areas.”

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