'No-deal' Brexit less likely as MPs given more power

A no-deal Brexit is less likely after an amendment was voted through yesterday giving more power to MPs to decide what to do if the draft withdrawal agreement is voted down next week.

According to the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which became law in June, the government must present the draft deal to the MPs – due to happen on Tuesday – and they must vote in favour of it before it can go on to become a treaty between the UK and EU (it must also be approved by the MEPs).

The deal allows for an ‘orderly’ departure, including protecting most rights of expatriates on both sides of the Channel and allowing a transition period until the end of 2020, avoiding the UK leaving in a 'cliff-edge' manner on March 29, 2018, with no deal. However opponents think it leaves the UK in a weak position with regard to the EU.

If, however MPs vote it down, then the act says the government must come back within 21 days with its ‘Plan B’ but MPs would have had no power to change what the government decides. However, under the new amendment the MPs now have the right to change the plan the government announces to them. It was tabled by former attorney general and Conservative MP Dominic Grieve, one other Conservative and four Labour MPs and was voted through with the support of Labour and dozens of Conservatives, 321 to 299.

Some analysts say the MPs’ alternative plan would not be binding on the government, which could ignore them and press on (for example, putting in place plans for leaving without a deal), however it would be highly controversial if it did so. UK Prime Minister Theresa May previously told parliament there will be no more renegotiation and the choice is clear between leaving with no deal, “risking no Brexit at all”, or leaving with the deal, which was “the best that could be negotiated”. The view that the deal is the best available has also been echoed by the European Commission and Parliament, however the Labour Party disagrees.

Commentators say most MPs are keen to avoid a no-deal Brexit (a scenario which would potentially mean Britons in countries like France losing their rights and reliant on good will of both the UK and their host countries) meaning that the amendment is likely avoid this scenario, leading to calls for other options such as a ‘People’s Vote’ (referendum) or a ‘Norway’ Brexit (joining the EEA).

However some suspect the government may secretly be hoping that the amendment will encourage some MPs to vote for the deal to fend off the chance that the UK will stay in the EU after all.

This comes after the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice gave a view that the UK still has the right to call off Brexit unilaterally if it decides to do so. A spokesman for the court said a final decision would come "fast", but he could not confirm rumours that it will be next week.

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