A week ago the prime minister reassured Sir Graham Brady that she would use the time before the European Parliament elections to bring the Withdrawal Agreement Bill – implementing the Brexit divorce plan – before Parliament. The logic of the narrative was: don’t move on me just now, I’m in the middle of something important.
But the government has not brought forward the legislation this week and tomorrow’s Cabinet is expected to discuss what should happen next.
One source said the options under discussions tomorrow will include one plan to introduce the bill with the controversial bits taken out. The Backstop provision would be stripped out in the hope that it could be re-inserted at a later stage when the stark alternatives might soften opposition in Parliament or when the EU has conceded ground on the issue. Getting the neutered bill through second reading would “demonstrate willingness to make progress,” the source said.
Other options are to have indicative votes by MPs on what future relationship with the EU they want, possibly using exhaustive ballots that force a 50% +1 majority for one proposition. The Local Government Minister, James Brokenshire, said on Radio 4 that these should be termed “definitive” not “indicative” votes. One government source said: “That’s ridiculous.”
The Cabinet could decide it wants to throw even more into the Labour-Conservative talks but they are taking place again tonight with little optimism or enthusiasm in the air.
“Another option is to do nothing,” one government source said before laughing a lot.
Some Whitehall sources suggest the No. 10 operation is floundering, desperately trying to find a dignified justification for not leaving office but without much sign of a viable strategy.
One recent email from No. 10 was interpreted by some in the departments it went to as a call round for legacy projects that reflected Theresa May’s original mission statement for her premiership and which might be announced in the coming weeks.
Parliament tonight rose only three and half hours after it started sitting. There’s no shortage of bills that need to get through Parliament. They’re all stacked up. And they’re all Brexit.
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