Analysis: Government’s Brexit Vote U-Turn Changes Nothing

Just three weeks ago David Davis prompted a wave of gasps from anti-Brexit MPs when he stated what was surely blindingly obvious: if the talks with the EU go to the wire, Parliament will not get a vote until after the deal has been signed.

In the Commons this afternoon, he effectively repeated the same message.

It was dressed up as the Government listening to MPs concerns over scrutiny ahead of the debate beginning on the EU Withdrawal Bill. At first, it seemed to be handing more power to Parliament, as enshrining the Brexit deal in primary legislation means MPs will be able to table amendments.

But scratch ever so gently, as MPs such as Dominic Grieve did, and it is clear that what has been announced is not a game changer in the Brexit process.

There is no change on when the vote will take place. It could still be after the deal has been signed if talks go right up to March 29 2019.

Even if the deal is done in plenty of time ahead of the deadline, what could MPs do? David Davis confirmed today that, as the deal will be put forward in primary legislation, amendments can be added. But how can you amend a deal that’s effectively already been agreed? Will Davis go back to the EU waving an amendment which undoes two-years of negotiations? Brussels are hardly likely to start rebooking meeting rooms to get talks going again.

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MPs will be left with the choice of accepting the deal which has been thrashed out, or rejecting it and sending the UK out of the EU on World Trade Organisation terms.

We could be in the situation where MPs will finally have to make that oft-repeated choice between a bad deal and no deal.

And the only MPs who will be truly happy about this development is those who want ‘no deal’, as they now get a vote on it.

Of course, this all assumes there is even a deal to vote on. If the talks break down completely – something the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier warned of overnight – there will be nothing to put before Parliament.

The UK will be out with no deal, regardless of what MPs do.

This concession by the Government is cosmetic, not substantial, designed to try to avoid defeat on the EU Withdrawal Bill, and we will now see how many Tories have been bought off by it.

The truth is the Brexit process became irreversible when MPs voted to trigger Article 50.

Parliament left itself hostage to the fact it is now either May’s deal or no deal.      

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