MPs are due to vote on Theresa May’s Brexit agreement on Tuesday – but they will also get a chance to reshape the deal by tabling amendments to it.
The amendments vary in their potential impact on the proposed deal. Some seek to make relatively small tweaks, others to scupper Mrs May’s plan entirely. (You can see the full text of the motion and the amendments put down by MPs here.)
Amendments are suggested by MPs and the most important ones, in the eyes of the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, are selected for voting on by all MPs. The votes will be just before the overall “meaningful” vote on the prime minister’s deal.
There is a question mark over how far the government’s withdrawal agreement could be modified by MPs before it no longer has force under international law, or the EU judges it to be in breach of what was agreed by Mrs May.
The government has indicated it will back one amendment to Tuesday’s vote. This was proposed by Conservative MP Hugo Swire, which accepts the government’s deal as the EU Withdrawal Bill but includes provisions to:
- Make the government report to Parliament in March 2020 on the status of the arrangements to supersede the Northern Ireland backstop. This is the controversial “insurance policy” aimed at preventing the return of a physical border in Northern Ireland if the UK and EU have not agreed on a new trade deal by December 2020
- Give Parliament a vote on whether to extend the 21-month post-Brexit transition period, which would end in December 2020
- Give Parliament a vote on whether to implement the backstop
- Impose “a duty” on the government to agree a future relationship with the EU, or alternative arrangements, within one year of the backstop coming into force.
However, there are questions over how these provisions would affect the UK’s legal obligations. And, of course, they will only come into force if MPs vote to back the PM’s Brexit deal.
Some of the proposed amendments are designed to scupper the deal before the proper vote on it takes place.
Here are the ones we know about so far:
Labour frontbench amendment
- Rejects the deal because it fails to provide a permanent customs union and “strong single market deal”, as set out in Labour’s “six tests”
- Rejects leaving with no deal
- Resolves to “pursue every option” that prevents either no deal or leaving on the basis of the current deal
- As the official opposition’s amendment, this is likely to be called by the Speaker.
Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable amendment
- Amends the Labour motion to include a “public vote” as one of those options.
Labour MP John Mann amendment
- Supports the PM’s deal on condition the government maintains standards in employment, environmental protection and health and safety
- Currently backed by six Labour MPs – but the party leadership is against, arguing it would not be legally binding
- Mr Mann says the government will accept it in an effort to secure the backing of more Labour MPs.
Conservative Andrew Murrison’s amendment
- The Conservative MP has tabled an amendment that would put a time limit on the Northern Ireland backstop, aimed at reducing the scale of the expected government defeat.
SNP and Plaid Cymru amendment
- Declines to approve Theresa May’s Brexit deal “in line with the views of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly that they would be damaging for Scotland, Wales and the nations and regions of the UK as a whole”
- Calls for the UK’s departure from the EU to be delayed until another withdrawal deal is agreed.
Lib Dem amendment
- Calls on the government to prepare for a “People’s Vote” in which “the public may give their informed consent on leaving the EU or retaining the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union”
- Backed by the Lib Dems’ 11 MPs.
Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh’s amendment
- Makes clear the Northern Ireland backstop is temporary and should remain temporary
- Calls for assurance that, if the backstop doesn’t end by the close of 2021, this will be treated as a fundamental change of circumstances and would terminate the Withdrawal Treaty on 1 January 2022
- Backed by 15 other Tory Brexiteers.
Independent MP Frank Field’s two amendments
- The former Labour MP has tabled two amendments, signed by a handful of fellow Brexiteers
- Calls for a guarantee that the “sovereign right of the UK ultimately to terminate the Northern Ireland backstop if it is not possible to reach agreement with the EU on establishing alternative arrangements for ensuring the permanent absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland”
- Mandates the government to negotiate a Canada-style free trade deal.
Conservative MP John Baron’s amendment
- Gives the UK the right to terminate the Northern Ireland backstop without the agreement of the EU
- Amendment backed by cross-party group of Brexiteers, including 12 Conservatives, one independent and one DUP MP.
Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski’s two amendments
- Backs the PM’s deal provided the UK does not have to pay the EU more than £19.5bn when the Withdrawal Agreement comes into force and pays nothing else until a free trade agreement with the EU has been ratified
- The other urges the government to take on any EU member state which tries to pursue its “narrow national interest” in relation to fishing rights
- No MPs have so far put their name to either of these amendments.
Labour MP Hilary Benn’s amendment – which declined approval of the deal and “rejected” no deal – has been withdrawn despite having cross-party support, mainly from MPs campaigning for another EU referendum.
Mr Benn told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s now much clearer that there is a route to ruling out no deal than we had back in December, when I originally tabled the amendment.”