After months of negotiations, the Government lost the meaningful vote on its Brexit deal by 432 votes to 202, following which the Prime Minister pledged to enter talks with senior MPs from across the House of Commons to assess what revised Brexit deal had a good chance of winning majority support.
However, with the Leader of the Opposition refusing to begin talks unless the PM ruled out no deal and Theresa May herself unwilling to compromise on her Brexit ‘red lines’ for fear of prompting a devastating split in the Conservative Party, hopes of a ‘red-blue’ coming together faded quickly.
Updating the Commons on 21 January, the PM pledged that the Government would instead seek further changes to the backstop arrangements – designed to avoid a ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic – contained in the Withdrawal Agreement.
Ahead of the Government’s motion being debated and voted on, a number of MPs tabled amendments in an attempt to ‘harden’ Brexit or allow Parliament to take control of the process.
The most prominent of these was an amendment by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Conservative Nick Boles, which could have led to Parliament forcing the Government to request an extension of the Article 50 negotiating period should Parliament not approve a Brexit deal before 26 February.
A related amendment, tabled by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, would have created time for Parliament to debate and vote on alternative Brexit options, such as membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union, or a second referendum.
The days leading up to the crucial votes on 29 January also saw attempts to win support for a series of Eurosceptic amendments, which would have approved the PM’s Brexit deal subject to changes to the Northern Ireland backstop. Opinion eventually coalesced around an amendment from Sir Graham Brady, which sought to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The votes on 29 January were seen as a victory for Theresa May, with Eurosceptic Conservative MPs and the Democratic Unionists rallying behind the Brady amendment, which passed by sixteen votes. Meanwhile, opposition from over a dozen Labour MPs helped to defeat the Cooper and Grieve amendments, both by margins of twenty votes or more.
Whilst the Commons did vote in favour of a separate, non-binding amendment opposing no deal, the way is now open for the PM to return to Brussels to reopen negotiations on the backstop, something which the PM confirmed would be her next step following these key votes.
In the build-up to the votes, the PM pledged that the Government would allow MPs to have a further series of votes on Brexit on 14 February, even if no revised deal is reached with the EU before that date.
So, what can we expect to happen next?
Firstly, whilst the EU gave a frosty reaction to the announcement that the UK would seek to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement to renegotiate the backstop, following the passage of the Brady amendment, it will be interesting to see how far EU unity holds on this point in the coming days.
The Polish Government spoke out before the votes, raising the prospect of the backstop being altered, and the PM will be looking to recruit more allies among member states for changing the backstop in the coming weeks, helped by her being able to say that she could get a Brexit deal through Parliament if the EU moves in this area.
Secondly, even if the PM does secure fresh concessions on the backstop, they are unlikely to be sufficient to keep the support of at least some Conservative Eurosceptics who backed the Brady amendment, and possibly also the DUP.
Watch for the PM to warn of the danger of Brexit being softened or stopped completely unless Eurosceptics rally around any revised deal, as well as new assurances on workers’ rights to win around to her deal those Labour MPs who voted against her on the first meaningful vote yet opposed the Cooper and Grieve amendments.
Finally, should the PM struggle to secure concessions from the EU and see support from Eurosceptics unravel, watch out for further pressure from pro-EU Ministers for an extension to Article 50 and a rebooting of cross-party talks to pave the way for a softer Brexit. Should the PM refuse to budge, some Ministers may face a choice in the coming weeks between resigning en masse in an attempt to force the PM to change course, risking the fall of the Government, or allowing the chances of a no deal Brexit on 29 March to increase still further.
Brexit will undoubtedly have a number of implications for RYA members and the boating community. That’s why we are continuing to engage with government and supportive Parliamentarians to ensure that the needs and concerns of the recreational boating community are heard in the Brexit negotiations.
In particular, we are concerned about what the Brexit related bills may mean for border controls, time limits on duration of stay both for individuals and vessels wishing to visit Europe, the future ability of recreational craft and their contents to travel freely throughout Europe without customs restrictions, and the ability of RYA qualification-holders to work in the EU territory.
Many RYA Members have been in touch to see what a no-deal scenario might mean for their boating activities both here and in the community area. Our Brexit Q&A considers the situation in the event that no-deal is agreed, based on the RYA’s knowledge of the legislation as it currently stands. However, the honest answer to many of the concerns raised by our Members, is that we simply don’t know at this stage and the answer when do know it may well depend of what type of Brexit deal we get.
For more information about the RYA’s Brexit work or for guidance on how to contact your local MP, visit www.rya.org.uk/go/brexit or contact the Cruising, Legal and Government Affairs team at firstname.lastname@example.org.