Boris Johnson will tomorrow present his “great new” Brexit deal to MPs ahead of what is likely to be a knife-edge House of Commons vote on the agreement he has struck with the EU.
However, MPs are already planning to derail the prime minister’s Brexit strategy and force him into seeking a delay to the UK’s departure from the EU beyond 31 October, as well as making moves towards a second EU referendum or a general election.
Mr Johnson will on Saturday put forward a motion to MPs asking them to approve the new withdrawal agreement and political declaration – setting out the framework of the future UK-EU relationship – that he has agreed with Brussels.
However, MPs have already tabled a series of amendments to the prime minister’s motion. So, what do they plan to do?
Compel the prime minister to seek a Brexit delay
The most serious threat to the prime minister’s Brexit strategy is posed by some of those former Conservative MPs he expelled from the party.
Mr Johnson withdrew the Tory whip from 21 MPs last month after they voted in favour of legislation seeking to block a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, known as the Benn Act.
The prime minister, who has branded the law the “Surrender Act”, has promised to take the UK out of the EU on 31 October “do or die”.
He has also said he would rather “be dead in a ditch” than ask for another Brexit delay.
But the Benn Act will compel him to ask the EU for a three-month delay to Brexit if MPs fail to approve his deal – or explicitly approve a no-deal Brexit – tomorrow.
In an amendment tabled to the prime minister’s motion tomorrow – supported by former Conservatives Sir Oliver Letwin, David Gauke and Philip Hammond – a group of MPs are proposing the House of Commons withholds its approval for Mr Johnson’s agreement until all the legislation needed to implement the deal is passed.
Even if Mr Johnson wins approval for his deal tomorrow, he will still have to introduce a Withdrawal Agreement Bill to put the deal into UK law.
Some MPs fear there’s a risk not all the legislation will be passed by the 31 October Brexit deadline and could therefore result in a no-deal Brexit on that date; hence their tabling of the amendment.
If the amendment is successful, Mr Johnson is likely to have to comply with the Benn Act – by asking for a fresh extension to the Article 50 negotiating period – although a Brexit delay would only occur if he subsequently fails to pass the necessary legislation before 31 October.
Ed Vaizey, one of the 21 Tory MPs expelled last month, explained to Sky News he wants to support the prime minister’s new deal but suggested he is likely to back the amendment to “guarantee that we don’t leave the EU until all the legislation is passed”
He said: “Voting simply in favour of the deal on Saturday is just the beginning of the process.
“We have to pass the legislation and nobody wants to be in a position where the legislation somehow fails and we crash out the EU.
“I’ve always tried to stop a no-deal Brexit.”
Force a Brexit delay in order to hold a general election
The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford has tabled an amendment that, if passed, would see MPs refuse to approve the Brexit deal and instead call on the prime minister to secure an Article 50 extension until at least 31 January next year in order to hold a general election.
He told Sky News: “Let’s keep in mind that parliament did legislate to stop no-deal at the end of October, we passed the Benn Act.
“If we vote down this deal tomorrow, and I really hope that colleagues do, that there’s that firm instruction that Boris Johnson must write the letter to the EU requesting that extension.
“I firmly believe that extension will be granted.
“As opposition parties we then have to take our responsibilities seriously. We’ve got to then – safe in the knowledge that we’ve got that extension – have a vote of no confidence to bring this government down.
“To put this back to the people in a general election.
“I’m confident that when we have that debate in an election in Scotland, that we will defeat those that support Brexit.
“It’s up to those in other parties in other parts of the UK to do the same. There is no good that is going to come out of Brexit.”
He added: “We don’t want no deal, we don’t want Brexit and it’s within our hands to stop those things happening.”
Put the prime minister’s deal to a referendum
It had been suggested some MPs – perhaps with Labour’s backing – would allow the Brexit deal to be approved, as long as it was attached to a so-called confirmatory referendum.
This would see the prime minister’s deal put to a public vote against the option of remaining in the EU, and would likely require a delay to Brexit beyond 31 October.
However, Labour has shied away from backing such a move on Saturday and, so far, no such proposal has been tabled for tomorrow.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell suggested his party want so see a straight yes/no vote on the prime minister’s deal tomorrow, but could return to the issue of a confirmatory referendum later this month when the subsequent Withdrawal Agreement Bill is put to the House of Commons.
He told Sky News: “As this legislation is brought forward there’ll be opportunities – I’m sure – to attach, possibly, a people’s vote to that as we debate the legislation itself.
“It’s a matter, really, of having the debate on Saturday, making sure we can analyse the details of the proposals that have come forward.
“What we’ve seen so far is just an unacceptable deal – it’s worse than Theresa May’s.
“We can’t vote for it. The government has to bring forward legislation to enact this deal and, therefore, the timing of any proposals and amendments is critical.
“I think there will be MPs who will want to see this attached to a people’s vote.
“Others will say, actually, it’s better to have a sensible deal that will go back to the people, alongside the option to Remain.”
Force the prime minister to cancel Brexit completely
SNP MP Angus MacNeil has tabled an amendment to the prime minister’s motion calling on him to revoke Article 50 – therefore cancelling Brexit – before 31 October.
However, his proposal is unlikely to attract much support in the House of Commons and may not even be put to a vote by Speaker John Bercow.