On 15 January a ‘Meaningful Vote’ was held in the House of Commons on Theresa May’s draft EU Withdrawal Agreement. The agreement was rejected by MPs by a majority of 432 votes to 202, leading the government to revert to cross-party discussions.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn initially refused to engage in cross-party talks until the possibility of a Brexit no-deal had been ruled out. Several members of his party however, including senior backbench MPs Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn, chose to ignore this and met with the government. On 30 January, Mr Corbyn eventually met with Mrs May to voice concerns over the backstop and to press for a comprehensive custom union. Future talks between these party leaders are set to continue.
Mrs May’s government has also begun to have separate meetings with Labour backbenchers, offering cash benefits for the constituencies of MPs who vote in favour of the next scheduled vote on an amended draft EU Withdrawal Agreement. This has been met with criticism with Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell, who has urged MPs to judge Mrs May on her history of austerity rather than one-time offers.
Another ‘Meaningful Vote’ is scheduled for 14 February, and the usual Parliamentary Recess has been cancelled by Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, in order for this vote and further Brexit discussions to continue. Mrs Leadsom has stated that the processes of getting all Brexit legislation passed by 29 March (the current EU withdrawal deadline) are ‘all very much under control’.
Not everyone shares this enthusiasm. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, and Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, have both expressed concerns; Mr Hunt outlined that with the complexities of the Ireland border may require additional time to put proposals together. Mr Hammond’s civil servants at the Treasury have been so occupied with Brexit that they have been unable to devote much time to ‘The 2019 Spending Review’, problematic in so far as Mrs May requires this to demonstrate her claims to the ‘end of a decade’ of austerity.
Brussels have also warned that further amendments to the draft Withdrawal Agreement will not be tolerated, though have said that an extension to the withdrawal date may be considered. However, unless a renegotiation or a withdrawal extension can be agreed, the chances of a no-deal Brexit remain high.