On 14th February, the Dutch government launched the ‘Brexit-monster’, a campaign that aims at advising companies to check the online Brexit impact scan (an online survey) or the official website to assess how big the consequences in a Brexit-scenario will be for them. This publicity stunt of the Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister, Stef Blok, confirms again that uncertainty is the only certainty in the Brexit developments.
After the Commons vote of 29th January where MPs voted for the Government to go back to Brussels to negotiate “alternative arrangements” for the Irish backstop element of the Withdrawal Agreement, the Government, as a next step, tabled a motion on 14th February to ask MPs re-endorsement to do so. However, ardent Tory Brexiteers opposed the motion because the way it is phrased rules out a no-deal scenario, which is unacceptable as it reduces the UK’s leverage in Brussels. The humiliating defeat of the motion by a majority of 45 (303-258) does not bear any consequences, but it weakens the PM even further, especially viewed from Brussels’ perspective. So, the motion on 29 January seems to remain the only Government motions the House of Commons has passed expressing what it does want, i.e. changes regarding the backstop, although what that means is still unknown.
”There is no majority for the Prime Minister’s course of action for dealing with Brexit. The government cannot keep ignoring Parliament,” said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn following the vote. Corbyn tabled an amendment which would have required the Government by 27th February to either put her final deal to a vote in the Commons or table another amendable motion allowing Parliament to vote on how to proceed. It was defeated by 322 to 306 votes.
Another amendment by Scottish National Party requiring the Government to extend Article 50 by at least three months got defeated by 315 to 93 votes.
Corbyn plans to hold talks with EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier, and the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt in Brussels. He seeks to break the Brexit impasse and is expected to provide further details on his plan sent on 6th February. The move will certainly be criticized by the Government as undermining May’s hopes for concessions from the EU. Meanwhile, May will also be in Brussels to meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
The possible next scenario is difficult to predict, but rumors remain that May is running down the clock to blackmail MPs into backing the Withdrawal Agreement. Indeed, extending Article 50 could threaten Britain to stay shackled to the EU indefinitely. A bad deal is better than no deal, it seems.