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‘Super Tuesday’, ‘Trepidation Tuesday’, ‘Oh-lord-we-really-have-to-win-these-votes Tuesday’. Call it what you will, June 12 is the date. The Chief Whip, Julian Smith, has written to Tory MPs to inform them that a week from today the Commons will be voting on every amendment made by the Lords to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.
The votes on all 15 amendments are scheduled to take place on that Tuesday, which will be a mammoth undertaking (voting could go on until 3am) and require the government whips to be at their very best. Smith has informed his fellow Tory MPs that they should be “working from the estate at all times” – MPs will presumably be told to avoid commuting via Thameslink, Southern, or Great Northern on the day. With such a hefty number of amendments to get through, the plan is reportedly to split them into three batches. Meanwhile, politicos are debating which amendments represent the biggest threat to the Government.
Which amendment will hurt the most?
Much ink has been spilled over the customs union amendment. However the wording of it means that a defeat would probably only require that the Government report to the House that it is not considering a customs union. As such, rebels may choose to keep their powder dry. It is amendments to the trade bill and the customs bill which will be voted on later in the year that provide the chance for rebels to really hurt the Government on that front.
James Forsyth at The Spectator instead reports that, while one Cabinet minister expects a couple of “painful but not critical” defeats, it is the meaningful vote amendment that is making ministers most nervous. Defeat on that vote “would effectively allow the Commons to order the government back to the negotiating table.”
How nervous is No10? Well, Smith pointedly references the Tory manifesto promise to leave the customs union in his letter, and its not clear that the prizes on offer are big enough for a serious rebellion. Moreover, May and Co have a week to find the concessions that can secure success. Although that hasn’t stopped Robert Peston calling it a “bet bigger than she’s ever made”, and predicting that it may be the end of her time in Downing Street.
Labour’s balancing act goes on
It isn’t only the Government that’s got problems brewing for next week. While shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman accused the Tories of wanting to “railroad” the Bill through Parliament, her own party has been bickering over its stance.
The Telegraph reports that Chuka Umunna is heading a charge, backed by up to 70 parliamentary colleagues, for Labour to back the Lords amendment that could force the Government to negotiate EEA membership (the Norway option). Unless Umunna can bring his whole party with him, that amendment looks unlikely to succeed.
Nevertheless, June 12 will be an interesting test of whether Labour’s Brexit ambiguity can survive the strain of Parliamentary jousting.
Whatever the outcome in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Front Bench will have you fully updated before your last cornflake leaves the bowl.
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