In Depth

Five days of Brexit debate: what we can expect

Theresa May launches ‘biggest gamble of her political life’ as she addresses Commons ahead of crunch vote

Theresa May is kicking off a week of Brexit debates with a Commons speech in which she will urge MPs to “respect the decision of the British people” by voting for her withdrawal agreement.

Facing down critics from across the House today, the prime minister is taking “the biggest gamble of her political life” as she fights to push her controversial Brexit deal through Parliament, says Sky News.

May has been meeting Conservative MPs in small groups in a bid to both win support for the deal and save her job, “knowing that she will face calls from Labour to resign if she loses the Brexit vote” on 11 December, says The Times.

Most political observers “agree that the prime minister currently does not have the numbers” needed to secure victory, says the BBC. But before the vote takes place, MPs have a lot to discuss.

How will the debate work?

MPs will debate different aspects of the EU Withdrawal Agreement signed off by EU leaders in November following months of negotiations.

The Government has lined up senior ministers to lead the debate and make the case for the deal. Each day will be broadly based on a theme except for today, which will be more general and will be closed by Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay.

Kicking off proceedings, May will tell MPs: “The British people want us to get on with a deal that honors the referendum and allows us to come together again as a country, whichever way we voted. This is the deal that delivers for the British people.”

On Wednesday, the focus will be on security, with Home Secretary Sajid Javid opening the debate and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt closing it.

Thursday’s debate will be on the economy, with Chancellor Philip Hammond opening and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox winding up, while Monday’s debate will focus on the preservation of the union and involve Cabinet Secretary David Lidington and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley.

Details for the final day are not yet known, prompting HuffPost’s Paul Waugh to ask: “Will the PM ‘unleash the beast’ i.e. Michael Gove, to open the final day of the vote, then close the debate herself (or vice versa)?”

What’s happening with amendments?

The PM has been dealt an early blow ahead of debate launch as some 16 Tory MPs - “more rebels than it took to defeat the Government on the ‘meaningful vote’ amendment last year”, notes Politico’s Jack Blanchard - launch a bid to ensure the motion proposed by the Government to approve the agreement can be amended.

If passed, this will allow the Commons to attach conditions to the result of a vote on the Brexit deal, giving Parliament the power to take greater control of the Brexit process. 

There are several other amendments in the offing. Labour’s official proposal “would decline to approve May’s Brexit deal and explains this is because it fails to provide for a permanent UK-EU customs union and ‘strong’ single market deal”, says ITV News.

According to the Government’s proposals, “there can be up to six amendments to the motion”, says the BBC. Any MP can put down an amendment but it is up to Speaker John Bercow to decide which ones end up being put to the Commons.

How will they vote?

At the end of the final day of debate, next Tuesday, MPs “will get to vote on amendments before voting on the final motion, whether amended or not”, reports the BBC.

Should MPs fail to back the PM’s Brexit deal, it is unclear what next steps the Government might take.

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