MPs gear up for marathon Brexit vote session

Brexit campaigners outside Parliament Image copyright Reuters

Even at lunchtime today, a former minister stalking the green and gold corridors of this place, made a familiar moan, "there's nothing happening in this place".

MPs complain often "we have hardly anything to do", so few new draft laws are actually being put forward, so little do they have to scrutinise and then vote on.

Suggest that to the government and it would push back pretty strongly, even if some ministers might raise an eyebrow while doing so. But next Tuesday isn't going to be like that at all with a marathon session of Brexit business back in the Commons.

The Lords beat the government fifteen times on its EU Withdrawal Bill, forcing changes to ministers' plans.

The government will try to unpick those alterations. So while it's hard to know precisely how many votes there will be, there will be a lot, and it is certainly unusual to have them all in one day.

The bill passed its first hurdle in the Commons a few months ago, but the House of Lords then made plenty of nips and tucks, or amendments, on how customs should work after Brexit, on the Irish border, on whether we should stay in a different free trade area, the EEA, and plenty of other issues besides.

What the government wants is to undo the changes the Lords made to the bill.

But it is far from clear that they can rely on the votes in the Commons to do so. For many weeks potential Tory rebels who want a closer relationship with the EU after Brexit, have been planning how they might vote - this could be the moment then they gang together to beat the government.

They are confident that they could do so if they choose to, one of them said to me today, "some of us just are starting to think we have to fill in the gaps" trying to force the prime minister's hand to make up for what some see as the absence of leadership, saying No 10 has an "untenable lack of strategy, and it's running out of road".

Whether in the end they have the guts to do so next Tuesday, there's already a row. After months of a relatively quiet Parliament, trying to ram 15 votes through on the bill in one day is not exactly giving MPs time and space for debate.

Some around here are crying foul already. Surely the whips aren't trying to squeeze out dissent in the Remain camp?

Perish the thought. But it's worth noting on the Eurosceptic side there's satisfaction that the bill is at last returning to the Commons, and the votes all take place in one day - "bish bash bosh" - as one source described it.

There's the possibility that the bill, with losses or victories for the government will speed straight back to the lords within days. Next week there certainly will not be the case that "there's nothing happening".

PS: While Parliament is going to sound very divided in the next ten days, if you have been following the Customs debate in particular - which I know I have probably written about far too much - there is a sense, not of an answer, but of a developing compromise. Two Cabinet ministers have told me now that they expect the prime minister to end up in a position where she plumps for the revised 'max fac' proposal, but has to admit it won't be ready for years.

One of them today suggested the most likely outcome would be to move to a new 'Customs Partnership' at the end of the Brexit Implementation Period, then to 'max fac' once the technology has been developed in years to come. What Brussels will make of it is a different question. And with the Brexit White Paper possibly delayed until after the June summit, it is possible that the government still doesn't come up with its solution on this until July.

PPS: If that's one compromise, here's another potential one. Open Europe, the think tank that is officially neutral but that has close links to Eurosceptics has published a paper putting forward a possible compromise for the future economic relationship with the EU. In essence, the UK would stay closely tied to the EU in terms of goods, but go our own way on services. Nothing about this is easy, and again, Brussels has always pushed back at the idea of splitting up any sectors. But it has gathered quite a bit of attention and support around Westminster, and it's worth a read. Click here to read it.

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