The Government has now announced that the Withdrawal Agreement Bill – which needs to be passed by Parliament if the UK is to ratify the exit deal agreed with the EU in November – will be debated by MPs during w/c 3 June (with 7 June mooted as the day of the crucial second reading vote on the legislation).
Should the Bill be defeated, it could not be introduced again in the current Parliamentary session and may well spell the end of Theresa May’s premiership. However, the announcement of a date for MPs to consider the Bill does not reflect a renewed confidence in Number 10 that they have the numbers for it to pass, particularly with talks with Labour on a potential cross-party deal having now been called off. Indeed, the margin of defeat looks likely to be greater than the last time the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement was voted on in March.
Instead, the PM’s main objective by announcing the Bill’s introduction seems to have been to fend off any attempt to remove her from office in the next few weeks. This she seems to have achieved, though at the price of committing to meet with senior backbench Conservatives after the Bill’s second reading to discuss the timetable for electing her successor.
Number 10’s strategy for passing the Bill is reported to centre on incorporating commitments to various groups of MPs – whether it be on the environment and workers’ rights for Labour MPs or the operation of the backstop for the DUP – into the legislation in an attempt to reduce opposition to it. The Government also hopes that the expected success of the Brexit Party in the European Parliament elections on Thursday will encourage nervous MPs in Leave-voting seats to look more favourably at passing the deal.
However, at present, it seems that we are entering the end game of Theresa May’s time as Prime Minister, with a defeat on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill being swiftly followed by her resignation. This would then fire the starting gun on a Conservative leadership election which, with Brexit still not delivered and the Brexit Party predicted to take huge chunks out of the Conservative voter base, is likely to deliver a more Eurosceptic candidate the keys to Downing Street.
In these circumstances, the shape of the Brexit strategy which the new Prime Minister would adopt are already quite clear: demanding the replacement of the backstop – which seeks to ensure an open border in Ireland in all circumstances post-Brexit – in the Withdrawal Agreement and, should the EU not agree to this, threaten a no deal Brexit.
However, itlooks likely that, if a new PM were to pursue a no deal departure, oppositionMPs and some Conservative backbenchers would work together to pass legislationforcing the Government to revoke Article 50 rather than take the UK out of theEU without a Withdrawal Agreement on 31 October.
A new Conservative PM could anticipate this by calling a general election over the summer to change the maths in the Commons, though current polling suggests little chance of the Conservatives winning a clear majority in any snap ballot, whilst many Conservative MPs from across the party would likely oppose one for fear of handing office to Jeremy Corbyn and losing Brexit all together.
Alternatively, should MPs force the Government to revoke Article 50, one alternative way forward to a general election would be a fresh referendum on EU membership, leading to weeks of debate in Parliament on the organisation of and rules surrounding the ballot and campaigning likely stretching into next year.
Given the ongoing uncertainty around whether the UK will leave the EU, and if so when and on what terms, RYA is continuing to engage with government and Parliamentarians so that the voice of the recreational boating sector is heard in the Brexit process. We’re also seeking definitive answers to the many questions that are of concern to our 112,000 members.
In addition, we have prepared a Brexit Q&A considering a number of boating-related scenarios in the event of a no deal Brexit, based on our knowledge of the legislation as it currently stands.
For more information about the RYA’s Brexit work, or for guidance on how to contact your local MP to have your say, visit www.rya.org.uk/go/brexit or contact the RYA Cruising, Legal and Government Affairs Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.