Brexit: Forcing the timetable for a 'Plan B'

Theresa May heads to the Commons for Prime Minister's Questions Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Theresa May heads to the Commons for Prime Minister's Questions

The big debate is back on. As I wrote yesterday, in terms of Brexit itself, not much has changed - although Theresa May is that little bit more dug into Downing Street, weakened, but protected after that confidence vote last month.

But the other factor that's different this time is, well, time itself.

This whole process is on a deadline. Those who like to think of themselves as moderate are now feeling very radical about forcing the timetable, should the expected happen and the prime minister's plan be rejected by MPs next Tuesday.

As things stand, if the government hasn't been able to get its deal agreed in Parliament, they have a couple of weeks to come back and reveal their plan B - the one that Mrs May has been unwilling to share (not surprising when Cabinet leaks like a sieve) and the one that some of her colleagues fear she doesn't actually have.

Pace to quicken?

There are moves afoot in the form of an amendment today that would force the government to come back with their alternative plan much more quickly - within three days of the likely defeat next week.

After Prime Minister's Questions, MPs may well be able to ram that through to accelerate the process.

If you are fed up of the government's handling and delays over Brexit, so are plenty of MPs. There is, inevitably, an issue before this idea can be voted on.

Traditionally, this isn't the kind of motion that can be amended by backbenchers at this stage - in other words, only the government should normally be able to mess about with their plan before other people start weighing in.

And if the Speaker allows a vote on this idea to take place, it is a big deal and would set a big precedent.

'So be it'

But if a vote on this is not allowed or fails today, one former minister told me they were willing to go further, maybe even calling for a motion of contempt in the prime minister herself if she continues, as they see it, to try to keep Parliament as far out of the process as possible and to run the clock down as late as she possibly can.

They told me: "If I need to try to collapse the government, so be it."

These could be momentous days, but with Brexit, it may well not work out that way.

PS: Of course, this latest wheeze reminds us how it wouldn't be a Brexit day if the big question wasn't proceeded by a row over parliamentary procedure. Those copies of Erskine May, the bible of the Parliamentary rules, must be getting pretty tatty from over use by now.

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