Brexit vote delay on cards as Theresa May plays for time

Theresa May. Picture: Francisco Seco/AP
Theresa May. Picture: Francisco Seco/AP
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A vote allowing MPs to force the government’s hand on Brexit is set to be delayed in a move that would trigger a huge Commons row.

In the absence of a renegotiated Brexit deal, Theresa May had told MPs they would debate a neutral motion on Valentine’s Day, allowing a second round of votes on alternatives such as extending Article 50 or holding a second EU referendum.

However, Scotland on Sunday understands the government is now actively considering a delay to allow more time for the Prime Minister to consider compromise offers from the so-called Malthouse group of Tory MPs and from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

MPs may have to wait until the end of February or into March to have another say on Brexit. As well as provoking anger among opposition and Tory MPs, delaying the vote could force some government ministers to consider their position, given the growing risk of crashing out of the EU without a deal on 29 March.

Business secretary Greg Clark and work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd are understood to have threatened to resign if no deal becomes the only option.

Experts believe 14 February is the defacto deadline for companies trading with countries outside the EU, as products take up to six weeks to ship to Asia and could face tariffs on arrival if the UK leaves without a deal.

A source hinted at parliamentary fireworks, saying that Wednesday – when the Prime Minister is due to deliver a statement to the Commons – and Thursday “will be interesting”.

Meanwhile, a Scottish Conservative MP has said he will push ahead with an amendment requiring the government to take the UK out of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), regardless of whether ministers seek a longer post-Brexit transition period.

David Duguid, whose Banff and Buchan constituency includes some of Scotland’s biggest fishing communities, said he was hopeful that his bid to have an end date for CFP membership included in the Fisheries Bill would be adopted by the government.

The amendment could close off one avenue for compromise with Brussels proposed by the Malthouse group of MPs, who suggested last weekend that the deadlock around the Irish border backstop could be broken by extending the backstop, allowing more time to come up with alternative means of preventing a hard border in Ireland.

However, without a specific opt-out for the CFP, a longer transition would keep British fishermen under Brussels rules beyond the current end date of December 2020.

All 13 Scottish Conservative MPs, including Scottish Secretary David Mundell, signed a letter warning they could not support a Brexit deal that kept the UK under the CFP beyond 2020.

The Prime Minister has sought to offer reassurance to her Scottish MPs and the fishing industry, but has so far not made a firm promise on the date the UK will exit the CFP.

“It did cause me concern, but having spoken to the authors of the [Malthouse] document, and also to the likes of [environment secretary] Michael Gove and [fishing minister] George Eustice, everyone who needs to be is aware of my position and the position of the Scottish Conservatives,” Duguid said.

“The December 2020 end to the transition as it pertains to fishing is still what we are strongly advocating.”

The Fisheries Bill sets out how the UK will manage its waters outside EU rules, and is one of half a dozen pieces of legislation that must be passed before Brexit day.

However, with the Brexit timetable in limbo and less than 50 days until the UK’s scheduled departure, it isn’t clear when the bill’s report stage will take place.