Cable Slides As UK Parliament Votes To Delay Brexit Day - What Happens Next?

Vote#5: The big one; and as expected the UK Parliament voted with UK PM Theresa May to delay Brexit day (by 412 to 202).

As Bloomberg's Rosalind Mathieson explains, now we need to see what the EU might agree to in terms of an extension. That is if May doesn't get her deal through next week. There are reasons for the EU to tolerate a delay, but also complications around the European parliamentary elections that May needs to be sensitive to.

Ian Wishart, Bloomberg's European Government Reporter, offers a reminder from Brussels:

Any Brexit delay must be agreed unanimously by all remaining 27 EU leaders. They've indicated they will allow a delay of two or three months if May's deal is approved in order to enable outstanding legislation to be passed. If Parliament still rejects her deal, the EU is divided about the next course of action. But there are suggestions that leaders may back a delay of at least a year.

Despite being expected, cable is sliding on the vote

Here's what happens next...

This tweet seemed to sum things up perfectly:

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Vote#4: May on a winning streak tonight as UK Parliament votes to reject opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn's amendment on delaying Brexit (by 318-302).

The final amendment isn't being voted on, as author Chris Bryant withdraws it.

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Vote#3: May wins one as the UK Parliament rejects Benn's Amendment (which would have basically stripped the PM of her control of the process) by 314-312.

So far cable has been unimpressed...

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Vote #2: The motion loses by just three: 314-311, meaning no delayed exit date will be added to Benn's amendment.

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Vote#1: As expected, the UK Parliament rejects an (non-binding) Amendment calling for a Second Referendum (the motion losing by 344-85).

As Bloomberg notes, even "People’s Vote" - the main organization campaigning for a second referendum - issued a statement saying now is not the right time to test the will of the House of Commons on the matter.

"We believe Parliament will have better opportunities to decide it is only fair and reasonable to give the public a real say on this crucial decision for our country."

No reaction in cable to this vote.

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As we detailed earlier, it's been another ugly week so far for UK PM Theresa May as Bloomberg's Jess Shankleman recaps:

After weeks of negotiations, May flew to Strasbourg to meet with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. With plenty of pageantry, the two agreed to changes to the controversial backstop clause on keeping trade flowing on the Irish border.

Parliament inflicted another resounding defeat on May's deal after Brexit campaigners decided the changes didn't go far enough and they couldn't support it.

The pound climbed to its highest level since June after Parliament voted to reject leaving the EU after 46 years without an agreement in place on trade relations.

In fact, as SocGen's Brian Hilliard details, May's credibility was savaged yet again in Wednesday night's Parliamentary vote to disapprove of a No Deal Brexit at any time

The key ingredient still missing to ensure that a No Deal is avoided is the existence of an alternative to May's deal that can command a majority in Parliament. That could take time, making the need to seek an extension to the Article 50 period increasingly urgent. 

Today's vote will seek that extension. MPs will launch amendments. To put their desire to prevent a No Deal into effect, they now need specify the request for an extension in a way that is likely to be acceptable to the EU. Easier said than done but if it proves necessary to seek an extension then we think ultimately the request will be granted. It is looking increasingly likely that May will try to hold a third Meaningful Vote by 20 March, ahead of the 21-22 EU Summit. Don't rule out the possibility that she still might succeed in having her deal accepted in time for 29 March. Ironically, though, when a deal is finally approved, it could still end up being close to what she has negotiated.

No No Deal EVER!?

The government motion in last night's vote was to express disapproval for a No Deal exit on 29 March. The amendment that was passed was to remove the date of 29 March and so be against a No Deal exit at any time. Cabinet discipline fell apart with some ministers abstaining.

But May makes a crucial point The motion passed last night has no legal force "The legal default in EU and UK law is that the UK will leave without a deal [on 29 March] unless something else is agreed. The onus is now on every one of us in this House to find out what that is." This means that Parliament has to come up with an alternative deal acceptable to the EU27 by 29 March if a No Deal is to be avoided. That is a very tall order and, as May says, 

“If the House finds a way in the coming days to support a deal, it would allow the Government to seek a short limited technical extension to Article 50 to provide time to pass the necessary legislation and ratify the agreement we have reached with the EU.

But let me be clear, a short technical extension is only likely to be on offer if we have a deal in place. Therefore the House has to understand and accept that if it is not able to support a deal in the coming days and if it is not willing to support leaving without a deal on the 29th of March then it is suggesting that there will need to be a much longer extension to Article 50.”

Meaningful Vote #3

It is looking increasingly likely that May will hold a third MV by 20 March to give her one last chance of getting it through before the 21-22 March EU summit meeting. Her spokesman has said she would do this if it were thought “worthwhile.” Don't rule out the possibility that she might succeed. Many in the Hard Brexit European Research Group of Conservative MPs might hold their noses and vote for May's deal in fear that the alternative would be that the UK seeks a very long extension which would entail a risk of no Brexit at all. And if the DUP were to soften its opposition to the deal then the ERG would look pretty silly to be the only ones holding out. And the DUP might just be ready to do that ...

Cracks are appearing in the DUP position

The UK press is full of claims that the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, might issue legal advice supplementary to the three-page judgement he delivered on Tuesday that said that the latest concessions extracted from the EU27 did not alter his original opinion that the UK could be stuck indefinitely in the Irish backstop. This relates to Article 62 of the Vienna Convention which supposedly gives the UK some wriggle room. I won't even pretend to say I know whether the point he makes is correct. He referred to it when he presented his judgement to Parliament on Tuesday but had not had time to include it in his written advice. Lawyers can argue the nuances of this. What matters is whether the DUP and the ERG will accept his analysis.

Why might make the DUP climb down? - tariffs A key recent Brexit event that has been put in the shade by the shenanigans in Parliament was the release on Monday of the tariffs planned in the case of a No Deal crash out to trade under WTO terms. Most tariffs would fall to zero but agriculture would be protected. For Northern Ireland the consequences would be dire. The UK plans to let in manufactured goods from everywhere including the EU (and so from Ireland) without tariffs but the EU would place tariffs on UK imports to the EU. The Northern Ireland economy would be decimated. Northern Ireland business sees this and is certain to be making its views clear to the DUP. So, for all its bluster, the DUP is probably looking for fig leaf behind which to hide its potential change of stance.

And so we come to tonight's vote.

Tonight, Parliament will debate the motion for an extension. If MPs are serious in their commitment to prevent a No Deal then they will need to be finding ways of ensuring that the extension occurs (so the justification for it needs to be tightly specified) or vote for her deal. If they are unable to find an alternative Brexit model that can command a majority in Parliament then the logic of their determination would be that they would have to vote for May's existing deal in the absence of any other! So still don't assume that May fails in her attempts to get her deal through.

While nothing is certain, it seems safe to assume members of Parliament will vote tonight to delay Brexit. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond this morning went as far as to say he was "certain" it would. Beyond that, lawmakers may also have a chance to vote on whether to force a second referendum, and whether to allow for a series of non-binding votes on various Brexit options to find a way forward.

As SocGen adds, we need to continually remind ourselves that it is not automatic that the EU27 would agree to an extension

A delay long enough to see the UK be part of the new EU Parliament that holds its first session of the new parliament on 2 July would be anathema to many EU countries, and indeed to many in the UK! EU ambassadors met yesterday to discuss the options. A very long extension might be possible but it would come with conditions that the UK might find unacceptable. Donald Tusk has just tweeted “During my consultations ahead of EUCO [the 21-22 summit], I will appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it.”

Today's motion - for a “technical” extension of the Article 50 period until 30 June. As was the case yesterday, MPs will launch amendments to the motion so we do not yet know the final outcome. Watch out for amendments seeking “indicative votes” in the period 18-20 March for MPs to road-test alternative Brexit models.

As SocGen concludes, the endgame was always going to be messy It is becoming more and more likely that the flexibility necessary to get this deal over the line will have to come from the UK rather than the EU side. It is now looking less and likely that the EU will offer any meaningful concessions at next week's summit. Most of the heart searching will have to come from the UK Parliament.-