This week is all about whittling down. The Prime Minister wants to whittle down the number of her own (and Labour) MPs who will vote against her deal. MPs as a whole want to whittle down options that might get a majority. There is a hope that something will come out as the will of the Commons.
We'll get to the technicalities of all that in a minute, but first, here's the current options for Brexit:
12th April - this is where we are headed unless something changes. We are all set to leave next Friday at 11pm with no deal.
22nd May - Theresa May still thinks that if she can get her deal through the Commons, possibly this week, she can ask for an extension until 22nd May as was planned previously. So this would be leaving with the PM's deal and starting a transition period until Christmas 2020
22nd May - If MPs can get behind a customs union, there is some expectation that the EU would be happy to add that to the existing deal and give a short extension for MPs to nod through all the necessary legislation
2020 - With no deal that can pass, a government that will find ways to stop a customs union, we need a long extension to sort the mess out, possibly with a general election, almost certainly with a new PM and a remote possibility of a second referendum
Never - this is a possibility if we get a long extension and then have a general election or second referendum and people say they don't want to leave.
Forgive me if these options are similar to what they were a couple of weeks ago when I last ran through them. I hope you agree with me that it's worth looking at again.
Now, only a very small number of MPs actively want a no deal, so I would say it's pretty unlikely that we do leave next Friday with nothing. It could happen, but I don't think there is an appetite for it.
Which takes us to the two 22nd May options.
The Prime Minister's Deal
The first is what the Prime Minister has wanted the whole time. Her Withdrawal Agreement (which mostly, EU/ UK citizens being allowed to stay where they are, we'll pay the £39bn and we'll keep the border in Ireland open somehow) would pass. She's been making progress on this, only losing by 58 votes. She just needs to persuade 29 MPs to change their mind. It's in touching distance.
Except, of course, it's not within touching distance. Surely all the people who might be persuaded to vote for the deal are now on that side? Can there really by 29 MPs who have continued to hold out, but will now come alongside? The DUP have said they'll vote against it a thousand times, so May's eyes are firmly fixed on Labour for this.
Wherever she thinks she'll get the votes, it may be a moot point. The deadline for her to pass the WA has, well, passed. Last Friday at 11pm. That's when she needed to have a rubber stamp on the agreement. That's the day that she lost. Again.
So what's the plan now? Well, she still wants to get her deal through. The Speaker says she can't go with a motion again. The votes may agree. But. Here's her plan, even if it does feel like something of a 'Hail Mary' move. She might introduce the deal as a Bill. Taking the first steps into being a law. NOw that would mean it would start on something called a Second Reading in the Commons, probs on Wednesday. That would be a general debate on it followed by a vote.
If MPs pass that vote, then that's pretty much acceptance of the deal. Theresa May jumps on a train to Brussels and persuades them that, sure, it's a few days late, but her deal has passed.
PM: Can we please have that 22nd May extension?
EU: Of course you can. Well done for getting the deal through.
PM: Hooray! Oh, it was nothing really...
EU: Ah! You British and your modesty, etc, etc etc,
Parliament taking back control
Then there is the Parliament taking control route and this is really complicated. I shall be as clear as possible.
Last week, MPs had a series of votes to see what they might support. NOthing got a majority, and many people immediately wrote the process off. But, the point wasn't really to get a majority in the first round. That was to see generally what is popular.
The second round of votes is this evening. This allows MPs to get with ideas that might not be their first choice, but they could back anyway. Right now, it looks like Ken Clarke's customs union might gain enough support today. if that does happen, it's a big step. In the past 3 years, there has been nothing at all that MPS could positively back as a solution. If there still isn't enough support, they could continue the whittling proecss on Wednesday.
The EU have said they'd be happy to include a customs union in the Political Declaration and, if there is a majority for this and it's been included, then MPs might back the Withdrawal Agreement to get to the Customs Union Brexit that is waiting on the other side.
In short, MPs and the EU would get together to agree this kind of Brexit. They'd even give us that short technical extension that the PM wants.
But. This is not what the Prime Minister wants to happen. She thinks staying in the customs union and not being able to make trade deals around the world isn't Brexit and isn't what people voted for. So then there starts a battle of wills. Can the PM stop Parliament (possibly with the Speaker firmly on their side) from insisting on something? Can backbench MPs force through a Bill? Could the Queen refuse to sign off on the Bill if Theresa May asked her to? Nobody knows.
There is an EU summit next Wednesday (10th April), two days before we are scheduled to leave. What the UK asks for will be determined by the events of the next 10 day. The two scenarios above, if they come together, may well result in that 22nd May deadline.
For me, I think either those two outcomes would require a very specific series of events. I think they would both be extraordinary. I think it's far more likely that, come next Wednesday, we're asking for a considerably longer extension to try to sort all of this out. And, yes, this would involve EU elections at the end of the month. Possibly another general election in late 2019, early 2020. As ever, my predictions are nothing but guesswork, but that's what I think is the most likely.
Have a wonderful week, lovely people. I'll be back in your inbox on Friday, possibly with a clearer idea of what's happening next. Probs not though, to be fair.
The Week Ahead.
Once again, this timetable can change, esp if the government tries for another meaningful vote, possibly on Wednesday
Monday - In the main chamber today we've got some indicative votes as MPs try to work out what they might actually support. If a Customs Union does win a majority, there will be quite some pressure on Theresa May to change her red lines on that.
All eyes will be on Westminster Hall (the second debating chamber, a bit like Court Number One at Wimbledon) at 4pm, though, as that petition that got millions of signatures is debated. Expect some MPs to argue to revoke Article 50, while the majority will refer to 'the will of the people'. Don't expect any change to come out of the debate.
Tuesday - Well, this is a surprise. An actual Bill is in the Commons. Not a Brexit one, too. Yes, the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill [Lords] is in town. Full details below.
Over in the Lords, they are debating 'Finn's Law', which makes a specific crime of harming service animals. This came about after Finn the dog was repeatedly stabbed a few years ago. When this Bill passed through the Commons a couple of weeks ago, Finn himself was in the gallery.
Wednesday - So there is PMQs on Wednesday. That's definitely happening. The business for today is officially a couple of technical bits and a general debate about Trident. That's very unlikely to happen. I would expect one of two things to take place today:
1) More indicative votes, as we whittle down the options to two or three choices for MPs, hopefully having some kind of winner at the end.
2) The Prime Minister giving her deal one last push, this time as the start of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, thus getting around the Speaker's desire to not have more votes on the same motion.
Thursday- Very little going on today. A couple of debates in the Commons and a couple in the Lords. The news will be focused on whatever has happened with indicative or meaningful votes this week.
Friday - No Parliament today. Unless there needs to be.
NEXT WEEK - Yeah, it was supposed to be the first week of the Easter holidays for MPs (and cleaners, chefs, MP's staff, security, clerks, etc etc etc), but they are now going to be sitting next week. And possibly the week after that, too. Honestly, I just hope they have stuff to actually do, when the half term recess was cancelled, they sat around doing very little indeed. We'll see what happens next week.
Our pick of the government Bills in Parliament next week.
(These are both in the Commons on Tuesday, so don't get too excited about it actually happening)
Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill
This Bill will amend part of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 which governs the process by which people who do not have the mental capacity to make decisions (such as people with dementia, learning disabilities and/or brain injuries) are taken into care. The Bill aims to reduce the burden on local authorities and make the process of assessing people’s care needs simpler. However, disability charities say this Bill could put people’s human rights at risk by removing a layer of legal protection in the form of independent assessments.