Here's what happens next as Theresa May and the EU try to agree a Brexit deal - Jonathan Walker

Here’s what happens next as Theresa May and the EU try to agree a Brexit deal – Jonathan Walker

We’re rapidly approaching the stage when all the positioning and posturing comes to an end, and MPs have to consider an actual deal agreed by Theresa May’s government and the European Union.

Here’s an idea what to expect as Brexit draws closer.

Thursday 11 October

A number of Cabinet Ministers have been summoned to 10 Downing Street for an update on EU negotiations today, Thursday.

Tuesday 16 October

The Cabinet then meets on Tuesday, and Theresa May is expected to update her colleagues on the progress of talks.

This may be when she sets out the deal she expects the UK to sign.

And it comes just a day before she heads to Brussels to meet leaders of the EU27 (all the EU countries minus the UK). It will mean critics around the Cabinet table have little opportunity to object to the proposals.

Wednesday 17 October

She’s expected to set out the UK’s proposals on Wednesday afternoon, before attending a dinner with other EU leaders that same evening.

Mid-November

However, if agreement can be reached on a deal then that’s likely to be at a second summit in mid-November.

The House of Commons vote

If all goes well then the Prime Minister will face a test in the House of Commons, as she attempts to get MPs to endorse whatever’s been agreed with Brussels.

The official position of the Labour Party is likely to be to vote against the deal, as it has said it will oppose any deal that fails to deliver the “exact same benefits” we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union.

This is almost certainly impossible to achieve without staying in the Single Market and the Customs Union – which both Labour and the Tories oppose.

Can the Government win?

Given that Theresa May has a working majority of only 13 (if you include her partners in the DUP as Government votes), it wouldn’t take a big rebellion by Conservative MPs to see the Government lose.

But Conservative whips are confident any rebellion will be small.

And it’s possible some Labour MPs will vote with the Government.

A dilemma for Labour MPs

One of the big questions Labour MPs must ask is whether voting down the deal would simply lead to the UK crashing out of the EU without any deal at all.

There’s certainly no majority in the House of Commons for doing that. But as things stand, Brexit is due to take place on March 29, 2019 – and if no deal is agreed by that point then a no-deal Brexit appears to be the default position.

The Labour leadership has been pushing the idea that defeating Theresa May on the Brexit vote would lead to a general election.



Prime Minister Theresa May makes her speech at the Conservative Party annual conference at the International Convention Centre, Birmingham

But that’s just wrong. The Brexit vote will not be a vote of confidence, which is what would be required to trigger a general election (and even then there would be complications thanks to the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act).

There’s nothing to stop Labour calling a vote of confidence, but all the Tory rebels who oppose Mrs May’s Brexit deal would rally to her side in such a vote, as this time they would effectively be voting on whether their party should stay in power.

Furthermore, the hardline Brexiteers who oppose Mrs May’s proposed “Brexit” deal are exactly the sort of people who would welcome the prospect of a “no-deal” Brexit. They’re hardly going to bring down the Government when it looks like they’re on course to get what they want.

The only thing that’s guaranteed if the Commons votes down a proposed EU deal is that the EU deal won’t be implemented. The rest of it is theory-crafting and wishful thinking.

The dangers of a no-deal Brexit

There’s a chance that some Labour MPs will vote with the Government, on the grounds that a no-deal Brexit would do enormous harm to the UK’s economy.

The automotive industry would be particularly hard hit, and firms such as Jaguar Land Rover have issued dire warnings about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on their supply chains.

Factories simply wouldn’t be able to operate if it became harder to import parts from EU suppliers due to delays at borders.



Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has asked Labour MPs to support the Government

But carmakers are just one example. Many British firms have taken full advantage of the opportunities that EU membership offers, and losing those advantages would cause a profound shock to the economy.

At least with Theresa May’s “Chequers” plan, the UK would enter into a customs partnership and free trade zone which replicate, to some extent, what we have now.

And it seems clear that the Government is preparing for a no-deal Brexit if that’s the only one on offer.

For example, we learnt this week that Whitehall officials are discussing whether the mass slaughter of sleep might be required, if they can no longer be taken to slaughterhouses in continental Europe.

It means Labour MPs face a difficult decision. If Jeremy Corbyn does order them to vote against a deal, and they obey, they might bring about exactly the result they hope to avoid.

But if they support a deal, they will come under fire from those party activists who believe that defeating Mrs May over Brexit would somehow trigger a general election and give Labour a chance to take power.

Government asks for Labour support

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab urged MPs worried about the future of the car industry to back the Government’s deal.

Speaking in the House of Commons, he said: “Opposition Members should get behind the Government’s approach.

“Through the White Paper we can guarantee frictionless trade with our EU partners, while expanding our global opportunities.”

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