Labour demands Speaker launches action to hold ministers in contempt

Labour launch contempt proceedings that could end with Geoffrey Cox’s suspension from the Commons amid furious row over the decision NOT to release his full legal advice on Brexit deal

  • Attorney General Geoffrey Cox spokes to MPs on legal status of Brexit divorce
  • To heckles of ‘it’s a trap’ he said the Northern Ireland backstop was ‘indefinite’ 
  • Escaping the tie depends on a full trade deal or proof of bad faith by Brussels  
  • Theresa May is staring down the barrel of near-certain defeat on her Brexit deal
  • Government legal assessment of deal admits no ‘unilateral’ exit from backstop 
  • DUP has joined Labour and Tory rebels to demand full legal advice on package
  • The PM or her senior ministers could face charge of contempt of Parliament   
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Labour and other opposition parties wrote to Commons Speaker John Bercow tonight to demand he start action to hold ministers in contempt of Parliament over Brexit legal advice.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox had failed to follow the orders of Parliament to publish his full legal advice.

He joined forces with the Liberal Democrats, SNP and even Theresa May’s DUP allies to ask Mr Bercow to consider launching contempt proceedings. 

Mr Bercow said he would make a decision later tonight or early tomorrow on what to do. 

Mr Cox has published a 43-page summary and made a marathon appearance in the Commons – insisting this is the most he can do in the public and national interest.  

In theory the move could lead to Mr Cox being suspended from the Commons – and he said tonight he was prepared to accept any ‘sanction’ which eventually comes from his decision to protect the public interest. 

As he set out the legal position, Mr Cox admitted tonight the UK cannot unilaterally exit the Irish border backstop – prompting claims the Brexit divorce is a ‘trap’.

Mr Cox told MPs if the backstop ever comes into force there will have to be a trade deal or proof the EU is acting in bad faith to escape it.

To heckles of ‘it’s a trap’, Mr Cox told MPs the Brexit divorce deal contained ‘no unilateral right for either party to terminate’.

If Mr Bercow rules there is a contempt case to answer, he will trigger a formal investigation in the PM or her most senior colleagues.

The potential punishments include suspension or expulsion from the House, although they have not been deployed for decades. 

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox had failed to follow the orders of Parliament to publish his full legal advice.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox (pictured in the Commons tonight) admitted the UK cannot unilaterally exit the Irish border backstop – prompting claim the Brexit divorce is a ‘trap’ 

Labour, Liberal Democrat, SNP, DUP, Plaid and Green politicians wrote to the Speaker tonight (pictured) calling for the start of proceedings for contempt 

Sir Keir said the information made public not good enough after Parliament voted for the full document.

He said: ‘The Government has failed to publish the Attorney General’s full and final legal advice to the Cabinet, as ordered by Parliament.

‘We have therefore been left with no option but to write to the Speaker of the House of Commons to ask him to launch proceedings of contempt.’ 

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Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake, who signed the letter, added: ‘The Attorney General, in his most bombastic court-room manner has shown Parliament two learned fingers and refused to comply with Parliament’s request to publish the full legal advice.

How does the Commons contempt process work? 

Under Commons rules, the Speaker decides whether to allow a contempt motion to go before the House.

If he does and the vote is carried, it would then be referred to the Committee of Privileges which would rule on whether a contempt of Parliament had taken place.

If it is decided that a contempt had occurred, the committee can recommend a suitable punishment which is then put back to MPs to agree.

In theory, the most severe penalty is expulsion from the House, although the prospects of that happening would appear remote.

There were only three expulsions in the 20th Century, with the last one in 1954. Two of them involved serious criminal convictions, and the third was for lying to a committee and allegedly taking bribes.  

However any finding against the Government would be potentially highly damaging for Mrs May at a time when she is at her most vulnerable politically.  

‘This must constitute contempt of Parliament which will be pursued by all legal means.

‘The Liberal Democrats demand better than this sorry mess of a Government.’ 

In the Commons, Mr Cox said: “In this case I am convinced that in order to disclose any advice that might have been given would be fundamentally contrary to the interests of this country.

“It’s no use, the baying and shouting of members opposite – what I am trying to do is guard the public interest and it’s time they grew up and got real.

“If I thought there were a single item which I thought might be politically embarrassing I would have no truck with the idea the advice should be disclosed – it is because the public interest is at stake.”

Outlining the legal position, Mr Cox told MPs the Britain was ‘indefinitely committed’ to the backstop if it ever came into force – but said that was a political not a legal question. 

Short of agreeing a full UK-EU trade deal, the only way to break the Irish backstop is to convince a tribunal there is ‘clear evidence’ that the EU is deliberately avoiding finalising a trade agreement. 

Mr Cox said he would have preferred a unilateral exit but said he was ‘prepared to lend my support’ to the plan because ‘I do not believe we will be trapped in it permanently’. 

Many MPs believe the government is holding back even more damaging material in the full written advice from the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.    

Shadow solicitor-general Nick Thomas-Symonds told the Commons: ‘The Government does not want MPs to see the full legal advice for fear of the political consequences.’  

Mr Cox – an eminent QC and strident Brexiteer – was a key figure in forcing Theresa May’s deal through the Cabinet – but there are claims his private legal guidance warned the UK could be stuck ‘indefinitely’ in the Irish border backstop. 

The PM (pictured in the Commons today) is fighting to limit the information disclosed about the legal advice from Attorney General Geoffrey Cox 

Boris Johnson has joined condemnation of the refusal, saying it was a ‘scandal’ and pointing out that Mrs May previously called for advice on the Iraq War to be released

The DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson underlined the threat in a tweet today

In his statement to MPs, Mr Cox insisted the backstop part of the divorce was ‘expressly agreed not to be intended to establish a permanent relationship but to be temporary’.

What is in the summary of legal advice on the Brexit deal?

  • The Northern Ireland backstop lasts indefinitely ‘unless and until it is superseded’ by ‘alternative arrangements’. 
  • Agreement on ‘alternative arrangements’ to avoid a hard border is only possible by joint UK-EU agreement.
  • With no agreement, the UK must be able to show ‘clear evidence’ the EU is failing to negotiate in good faith to get a ruling in its favour.
  • The UK cannot unilaterally terminate the divorce treaty.
  • If transition is extended, the UK will have to pay an ‘appropriate’ amount more into the EU budget. This could run to billions.
  • During the transition period, the EU can choose to exclude the UK from ‘security-related sensitive information’ .
  • During the transition period, the UK must accept all new EU laws with no say on writing them.  

He said the Article 50 process did not provide a legal basis for a permanent arrangement.

But ‘if the protocol were to come into force, it would continue to apply in international law unless and until it was superseded by the intended subsequent agreement’ which met the goals of avoiding a hard border and protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

‘There is therefore no unilateral right for either party to terminate this arrangement. This means that if no superseding agreement can be reached within the implementation period, the protocol would be activated and in international law would subsist, even if negotiations had broken down.

‘How likely that is to happen is a political question, to which the answer will no doubt depend partly on the extent to which it is in either party’s interests to remain indefinitely within its arrangements.’

Brexiteers claim the 47-page legal summary published this afternoon is actually a ‘glossary’ to the Attorney General’s six-page advice handed to the Cabinet last month.

It confirms that the Irish border backstop will be in force after the transition period ends in December 2020, ‘unless and until’ it is superseded by other arrangements.

‘If the Protocol starts to apply after the end of the implementation period, then it will continue to do so unless and until its provisions are superseded by a subsequent agreement between the UK and the EU establishing alternative arrangements,’ it says. 

The legal paper gives a more detailed explanation of the ‘best endeavours’ provision in the Withdrawal Agreement. The deal sets out that if the backstop were to come into force, there will be a review process for the UK to break out.

The summary argues that the ‘obligation to negotiate in good faith with a view to concluding agreements is a well recognised concept in international law’. 

‘Relevant precedents indicate that such obligations require the parties to conduct negotiations in a meaningful way, contemplate modifications to their respective positions and pay reasonable regard to each other’s interests,’ it says. 

But the document adds: ‘A tribunal would only find a breach of the duty of good faith if there was a clear basis for doing so.’  

The wrangling comes as the bitter row over Mrs May’s Brexit plan reaches the endgame, with just over a week until the crunch Commons vote.

As tensions rise, the DUP has said it ready to sign a joint letter with Labour complaining that ministers are in contempt of parliament – after a Commons motion called for the details to be issued.

The party’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said: ‘If the Government attempt to ignore the will of the House of Commons and refuse to publish the full legal advice on the Irish backstop, the DUP will work with colleagues from right across the House to ensure they start to listen.’ 

In his Telegraph column, Mr Johnson also waded into the row, saying: ‘It is a scandal that this is currently being withheld.

‘You will recall that, when she was in opposition, the present Prime Minister wrote to the Labour government and complained of their failure to publish the Attorney General’s advice on the Iraq war. 

Could vote on Brexit deal be delayed to save May’s skin?  

As pressure grows on the PM, there are claims next week’s Brexit vote could be shelved.

Some Tory whips think a delay could help Theresa May to go back to the EU to renegotiate her deal to avoid a defeat in the Commons.

Under the plan, if the situation was still looking dire at the end of this week the Government would abandon the vote.

Mrs May could then attempt to reopen talks at a summit in Brussels. 

However, Sajid Javid – who was said to be one of the minister who back the idea – dismissed it today.

And Downing Street insisted the vote will go ahead as planned.  

‘She was right then – and how much more wrong and absurd is her position now, when you consider that this legal question is more important even than the Iraq war.’  

It represents another massive hurdle for Mrs May to overcome as stares down the barrel of almost certain defeat on December 11.

A heavy loss could bring Mrs May’s time in Downing Street to a chaotic halt – although allies hope going down by a small margin could allow her to try again.

Earlier Mrs May’s chief Brexit adviser told MPs that the Northern Ireland border backstop was a ‘slightly uncomfortable necessity’ for both the UK and the European Union.

The fallback plan agreed with Brussels was ‘not the future relationship that either the UK or the EU wants to have with one another’, Olly Robbins told the Exiting the European Union Committee.

He said: ‘It is an uncomfortable position for both sides and the reality … is that there is not a withdrawal agreement without a backstop.

‘That reflects also, as I’ve said to this committee before, ministers’ commitments to Northern Ireland and to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, rather than being something imposed upon us.

The Prime Minister’s chief Brexit adviser Oliver Robbins (pictured left today)  admitted the deal’s hugely controversial backstop is ‘uncomfortable but necessary’ for the UK, but he insisted a deal would not be done without one. His warning was repeated by new Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay (pictured right today) who said the EU would not allow a deal without a Plan B

‘So, it is a necessity and a slightly uncomfortable necessity for both sides.’

Oil tycoon says Theresa May’s Brexit deal is ‘workable’ 

Leading businessman Sir Ian Wood has said Theresa May’s Brexit deal is ‘workable’ and is better than the current situation with Europe.

He said that the UK cannot afford to leave without a deal and that the plan now needs to ‘move ahead.’

The businessman said that Brexit could also bring benefits to Scottish fishing.

Sir Ian, who made his name developing the Wood Group into a global oilfield services company, said that dealing with Brexit had been an ‘extraordinarily difficult task.’

He told BBC Good Morning Scotland: ‘There is not a solution which anyone, or I suspect even more than 50% of people, would really say ‘that’s a really good solution’.

‘There are two extremes and all kinds of ranges in between.

‘I frankly think we do need to move ahead. We cannot afford to have no outcome.

‘It would be bad for Europe and it would be bad for the UK and it would take a long time to work our way through that and frankly I think the proposal that’s on the table, I think it is workable, I think it is better than we have, we’re out of Common Market membership but we’re retaining some of the advantages so I think it’s better than we have, and I think it’s a workable proposal.’

Asked if the Government had drafted a clause for the Withdrawal Agreement which would have allowed the UK to opt out of the backstop unilaterally, Mr Robbins said: ‘Ministers asked us to look at a whole range of options for how to bring the backstop to an end, and so we did.

‘And the Prime Minister and other ministers tested some of those out on European partners.

‘But, what we went into the negotiation with in the end was a text that delivered the termination clause very much as it is laid out there.’

The UK faces making additional payments to Brussels if the Brexit implementation period is extended, the Government’s Brexit legal advice also said.

Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, it is due to run until the end of December 2020 but can be extended by up to two years if both sides agree.

The advice says that discussions on any extension would involve ‘reaching further agreement on the UK’s financial contribution’.

Labour’s Chris Bryant, a supporter of the People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum, attacked the paper’s release when MPs had demanded to see the full legal advice given to ministers by Mr Cox.

He said: ‘The House of Commons was very clear that the full legal advice to the Cabinet should be supplied to Members of Parliament.

‘The refusal of the Government to comply sends a very clear message about the Brexit deal – that it is bad for Britain, satisfies nobody and will weaken our economy and our voice in the world.’ 

Meanwhile, demands for a second referendum are mounting after the dramatic resignation of universities minister Sam Gyimah over the weekend.

Senior Labour figures including shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer and deputy leader Tom Watson are thought to be ramping up pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to back a fresh national ballot. 

Environment Secretary Michael Gove admitted yesterday that a referendum was a potential outcome if Mrs May loses, but said it would ‘rip the social fabric of the country’. He also insisted Leave would win by a bigger margin than in 2016.

MPs across Parliament have angrily accused ministers of ignoring the will of the House by only releasing a ‘full reasoned political statement’ on the legal position.

It follows a binding Commons vote last month requiring the Government to lay before Parliament ‘any legal advice in full’ – including that given by the Attorney General – relating to the Withdrawal Agreement.

Ministers chose not to oppose the motion – tabled by Labour under an arcane procedure known as the humble address – as they feared a damaging Commons defeat.

Mr Cox is said to have warned the UK could be tied to the EU customs union ‘indefinitely’ through the Northern Ireland ‘backstop’.

The Sunday Times said in a letter sent last month to Cabinet ministers, he advised the only way out of the backstop – designed to prevent the return of a hard border with the Republic – once it was invoked was to sign a new trade deal, a process which could take years.

‘The protocol would endure indefinitely,’ he apparently wrote.

The letter was said to be so sensitive that ministers were given numbered copies to read which they were not allowed to take from the room afterwards. 

Sir Keir and the DUP’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds (pictured) could sign a letter asking the Speaker to allow a motion ‘that the Government has held Parliament in contempt’

Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab – who quit last month over the withdrawal agreement – said the legal position was clear.

‘The backstop will last indefinitely until it is superseded by the treaty setting out our future relationship, unless the EU allows us to exit,’ he told The Sunday Times.

‘The EU has a clear veto, even if the future negotiations stretch on for many years, or even if they break down and there is no realistic likelihood of us reaching agreement.

‘That’s my view as a former international lawyer, but it is consistent if not identical with all of the formal advice I received.’  

Commons legal assessment highlights doubt on ‘backstop’ 

House of Commons lawyers have raised fresh questions about the Irish border backstop in Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

An internal assessment by the House’s EU legislation team highlights that the customs arrangements would be a ‘practical barrier to the UK entering separate trade agreements on goods with third countries’. 

It also suggests the Joint Committee to arbitrate over the Withdrawal Agreement could put Britain at a ‘practical disadvantage’.

‘If the Joint Committee is unable to reach a decision, in some circumstances, that will block next steps,’ the note says.

‘The party that wants those next steps to occur, will then be at a practical disadvantage. 

‘By way of example, i) the Joint Committee sets the limits of state aid that can be authorised by the UK for agriculture. If limits are not agreed, state aid may not be authorised.’ 

Downing Street has acknowledged that the backstop would hamper trade deals on goods, but argues that the EU would also be unhappy to keep the arrangements indefinitely.

The PM’s aides insist the country would still be able to do deals on services.

Ministers have argued the legal advice is privileged, in the same way as any advice given by a lawyer to their client, and that government cannot function if it is required to release such confidential material.

However, Sir Keir said it was essential MPs understood the ‘full legal implications’ before they voted on the agreement.

‘If the full legal advice is not forthcoming, we will have no alternative but to start proceedings for contempt of Parliament – and we will work with all parties to take this forward,’ he said.

‘If ministers stubbornly refuse to obey the order of MPs then they risk triggering a historic constitutional row that puts Parliament in direct conflict with the executive.

‘Although I accept the long-standing convention that Cabinet legal advice should be kept confidential, it’s well-established that in exceptional circumstances that convention does not apply. And these are exceptional circumstances.’ 

Sir Keir is ready to sign a joint letter with the DUP’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds, Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake and SNP Europe spokesman Stephen Gethins, asking Mr Bercow to allow a motion ‘that the Government has held Parliament in contempt’.

Under Commons rules, if the Speaker allows the motion to go before the House and the vote is carried, it would then be referred to the Committee of Privileges which would rule on whether a contempt of Parliament had taken place.

If it is decided that a contempt had occurred, the committee can recommend a suitable punishment which is then put back to MPs to agree.

In theory, the most severe penalty is expulsion from the House, although the prospects of that happening would appear remote.

However any finding against the Government would be potentially highly damaging for Mrs May at a time when she is at her most vulnerable politically.

May jokes Corbyn’s Brexit TV debate plan would mean she misses STRICTLY   

Theresa May joked Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit TV debate plan would mean she misses Strictly Come Dancing – just days after the Labour called for the showdown to be early enough he could watch the I’m a Celebrity final.

The PM’s jibe at Mr Corbyn today after Downing Street accused the Labour leader of ‘running scared’ of a head to head clash.

Both leaders have backed a debate on Sunday night – two days before the crunch vote on Mrs May’s Brexit deal in the Commons – but failed to agree on format.

Theresa May (pictured today on This Morning) joked Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit TV debate plan would mean she misses Strictly Come Dancing – just days after the Labour called for the showdown to be early enough he could watch the I’m a Celebrity final

The BBC is planning to screen a Brexit showdown between Theresa May and Mr Corbyn (pictured last week on This Morning) on Sunday – two days before the crucial Commons vote on December 11

Mrs May wants the debate on BBC One and has accepted the broadcaster’s idea of a head-to-head debate alongside questions from a panel.

Mr Corbyn had backed an ITV plan of a simple one-on-one contest. He has accepted this could be on the BBC but wants the simpler format.

There are growing doubts as to whether the debate would take place at all amid continued wrangling over the format. 

Mrs May told This Morning she was ‘keen’ to take part in a debate.

She said: ‘There are discussions about where exactly it is going to be.

‘There are variations on this. I think he said he wanted to be on ITV so he could watch the final of I’m a Celebrity.

‘I think his proposed time means I would miss Strictly – I hate to say it on ITV but I’m a bit of a Strictly fan.’ 

‘Leave won!’ Susanna Reid and Piers Morgan grill Tony Blair on Brexit referendum call 

Tony Blair faced a fiery grilling today as he was challenged over why he is calling for another Brexit referendum just two years after the historic vote.

The ex-PM is stepping up his campaign for a so-called People’s Vote and lashed Theresa May’s deal for ‘yielding’ too much to Brussels. 

Appearing on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, he said another referendum should be held which gives Britons a choice between staying in the EU or having a Boris Johnson-style hard Brexit.

But presenters Susanna Reid and Piers Morgan quizzed him over why Remain should even be on the ballot two years after the side lost.

Tony Blair (pictured on GMB today) stepped up his campaign for a second Brexit referendum – and said Theresa May’s deal should not be an option on another ballot

In a heated exchange with the ex Labour leader, Susanna said: ‘Why should Remain even be an option on the second referendum? Why isn’t it a choice between May’s deal and an alternative Brexit?

‘Because the whole Remain camp didn’t win that campaign. Why should we re-run that part of the referendum? Why would Brexiteers – people who voted to leave , not feel utterly infuriated that is being re-run?’ 

Mr Blair hit back, saying: ‘I think if you had a referendum and you excluded the possibility of remaining I think your 16-odd million people who voted Remain would feel a great sense of disillusion if they weren’t able to make their case again.’

Piers also chimed in asking: ‘Isn’t that what happens when you lose?’ 

The ex Labour leader went on: ‘When you lose but the other side are as divided as to what form of Brexit is correct or not the only sensible way is to put it back to people and say, you have had your 30 months of experience, do you want to stay?’

He said there his also a ‘good chance’ Brussels would give the UK more concessions to the UK.  


Is May’s deal already sunk? 100 Tories, the DUP and Labour have come out against – leaving her staring at defeat on December 11

Theresa May’s task of getting her Brexit deal past the House of Commons is looking near-impossible as opposition mounts.

The ‘meaningful vote’ promised to MPs will happen on December 11 and is the single biggest hurdle to the Brexit deal happening – as well as being the key to Mrs May’ fate as PM.

But despite opinion polls suggesting the public might be coming round to her deal, there is little sign of a shift among politicians.

Remainers have been stepping up calls for a second referendum in the wake of Sam Gyimah’s resignation as universities minister over the weekend – while Brexiteers including Boris Johnson have accused Mrs May of betrayal.   

Mrs May needs at least 318 votes in the Commons if all 650 MPs turns up – but can probably only be confident of around 230 votes.

The number is less than half because the four Speakers, 7 Sinn Fein MPs and four tellers will not take part.

The situation looks grim for Mrs May and her whips: now the deal has been published, over 100 of her own MPs and the 10 DUP MPs have publicly stated they will join the Opposition parties in voting No.

This means the PM could have as few as 225 votes in her corner – leaving 410 votes on the other side, a landslide majority 185.

This is how the House of Commons might break down:

Mrs May needs at least 318 votes in the Commons if all 650 MPs turns up – but can probably only be confident of around 230 votes.

Mrs May needs at least 318 votes in the Commons if all 650 MPs turns up – but can probably only be confident of around 230 votes.

The Government (plus various hangers-on)

Who are they: All members of the Government are the so-called ‘payroll’ vote and are obliged to follow the whips orders or resign. It includes the Cabinet, all junior ministers, the whips and unpaid parliamentary aides.

There are also a dozen Tory party ‘vice-chairs and 17 MPs appointed by the PM to be ‘trade envoys’.

How many of them are there? 178.

What do they want? For the Prime Minister to survive, get her deal and reach exit day with the minimum of fuss.

Many junior ministers want promotion while many of the Cabinet want to be in a position to take the top job when Mrs May goes.

How will they vote? With the Prime Minister.

European Research Group Brexiteers demanding a No Confidence Vote

Who are they: The most hard line of the Brexiteers, they launched a coup against Mrs May after seeing the divorce. Led by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker.

How many of them are there: 26

What do they want: The removal of Mrs May and a ‘proper Brexit’. Probably no deal now, with hopes for a Canada-style deal later.

How will they vote: Against the Prime Minister.

Other Brexiteers in the ERG

Who are they: There is a large block of Brexiteer Tory MPs who hate the deal but have so far stopped short of moving to remove Mrs May – believing that can destroy the deal instead. They include ex Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and ex minister Owen Paterson.

Ex ministers like Boris Johnson and David Davis are also in this group – they probably want to replace Mrs May but have not publicly moved against her.

How many of them are there? Around 50.

What do they want? The ERG has said Mrs May should abandon her plans for a unique trade deal and instead negotiate a ‘Canada plus plus plus’ deal.

This is based on a trade deal signed between the EU and Canada in August 2014 that eliminated 98 per cent of tariffs and taxes charged on goods shipped across the Atlantic.

The EU has long said it would be happy to do a deal based on Canada – but warn it would only work for Great Britain and not Northern Ireland.

How will they vote: Against the Prime Minister.

Remain including the People’s Vote supporters

Who are they: Tory MPs who believe the deal is just not good enough for Britain. They include the group of unrepentant Remainers who want a new referendum like Anna Soubry and ex-ministers who quit over the deal including Jo Johnson and Phillip Lee.

How many of them are there: Maybe around 10.

What do they want? To stop Brexit. Some want a new referendum, some think Parliament should step up and say no.

A new referendum would take about six months from start to finish and they group wants Remain as an option on the ballot paper, probably with Mrs May’s deal as the alternative.

How will they vote? Against the Prime Minister.

Moderates in the Brexit Delivery Group (BDG) and other Loyalists

Who are they? A newer group, the BDG counts members from across the Brexit divide inside the Tory Party. It includes former minister Nick Boles and MPs including Remainer Simon Hart and Brexiteer Andrew Percy.

There are also lots of unaligned Tory MPs who are desperate to talk about anything else.

How many of them are there? Based on public declarations, about 48 MPs have either said nothing or backed the deal.

What do they want? The BDG prioritises delivering on Brexit and getting to exit day on March 29, 2019, without destroying the Tory Party or the Government. If the PM gets a deal the group will probably vote for it.

It is less interested in the exact form of the deal but many in it have said Mrs May’s Chequers plan will not work.

Mr Boles has set out a proposal for Britain to stay in the European Economic Area (EEA) until a free trade deal be negotiated – effectively to leave the EU but stay in close orbit as a member of the single market.

How will they vote? With the Prime Minister.


Who are they? The Northern Ireland Party signed up to a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement with the Conservative Party to prop up the Government.

They are Unionist and say Brexit is good but must not carve Northern Ireland out of the Union.

How many of them are there? 10.

What do they want? A Brexit deal that protects Northern Ireland inside the UK.

How will they vote? Against the Prime Minister on the grounds they believe the deal breaches the red line of a border in the Irish Sea.

Labour Loyalists

Who are they? Labour MPs who are loyal to Jeremy Corbyn and willing to follow his whipping orders.

How many of them are there? Up to 250 MPs depending on exactly what Mr Corbyn orders them to do.

What do they want? Labour policy is to demand a general election and if the Government refuses, ‘all options are on the table’, including a second referendum.

Labour insists it wants a ‘jobs first Brexit’ that includes a permanent customs union with the EU. It says it is ready to restart negotiations with the EU with a short extension to the Article 50 process.

The party says Mrs May’s deal fails its six tests for being acceptable.

How will they vote? Against the Prime Minister’s current deal.

Labour Rebels

Who are they? A mix of MPs totally opposed to Mr Corbyn’s leadership, some Labour Leave supporters who want a deal and some MPs who think any deal will do at this point.

How many of them are there? Maybe 10 to 20 MPs but this group is diminishing fast – at least for the first vote on the deal.

What do they want? An orderly Brexit and to spite Mr Corbyn.

How will they vote? With the Prime Minister.

Other Opposition parties

Who are they? The SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Green Caroline Lucas and assorted independents.

How many of them are there? About 60 MPs.

How will they vote? Mostly against the Prime Minister – though two of the independents are suspended Tories and two are Brexiteer former Labour MPs. 


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