No witty and engaging title this week. We've got work to do.
Right. OK. You're going to need to stay with me on this one. There will be times when you wonder if it's really worth it. Stick around, I hope you'll find you do. As ever, feel free to reply to this and let me know your thoughts.
What are we even voting on?
MPs are voting on the Withdrawal Agreement. That's a very long document that mostly does the following:
1) Agrees to pay £39bn in order to fulfil previous spending commitments.
2) Agrees that UK citizens can stay in the EU if they're already there and EU citizens can stay in the UK
3) An agreement about the border in Northern Ireland. Everyone knows it's pretty important that the border stays open and check free*
4) A transition / implementation period until December 2021
*This is where a lot of the problems come from. We don't know what our future trade agreement will be. It's possible that talks fall through, or everyone changes their mind, or whatever. So. For that eventuality, there is a 'backstop' measure that would keep Northern Ireland in at least some bits of the EU, possibly without the rest of the UK. The DUP won't stand for anything that creates differences between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
There is also a much thinner agreement about how we might trade in the future. Called the Future Trade Agreement. This isn't legally binding and is mostly both the UK and the EU saying how great each other looks and would you like to go out for a drink. The issue here is that it's not the drinks that count- it's the marriage years down the line. And the UK in a slightly ill-fitting suit and a bunch of petrol station flowers, nervously rining the EU's doorbell is a very long way from the EU donning that white dress.
When is the vote?
Well, this should be a relatively easy question to answer. The vote is scheduled for Tuesday 15th January, with votes starting at 7pm.
But last time I was writing an eerily similar email to this one, the vote was pulled at the last minute. Theresa May looks like she thinks her goose might be cooked if she loses, especially if she loses by a huge margin. So a postponement is possible. Don't forget, though, she has already had a leadership challenge thing and survived it. The Conservative Party can't do that again until Christmas time.
What's different from last time?
The biggest might be from an amendment from a Conservative MP called Hugo Swire. This says that Parliament must vote to enter the backstop, and limits the backstop to a year. The PM has accepted that this is now part of the vote. IN theory, that's great for those worried about being held in the backstop forever. But. The DUP have called the amendment useless and the EU have suggested that this might not work for them - because, if we haven't got a trade agreement, what is the backstop to the backstop after a year?
There is also a stricter timetable for the PM. This change came from another Conservative MP, Dominic Grieve. This one is a bit different, though, because the PM didn't want it. She lost a vote in the Commons, 308 - 296. That means that, if she loses the vote, she has to come back to Parliament with a Plan B by the following Monday. The point of this change is to stop May from running down the clock to Brexit day and forcing MPs to choose between her deal and no deal.
There are also various 'assurances' and 'clarifications' that the PM promises she'll explain, but, at the time of writing, it's not clear what these are. we do know, though, that these won't be concrete or legally binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.
Is she going to win?
Does it fill you with confidence if I answer this with 'Probs not? Maybe?' The numbers still look very hard for the PM. To be really sure of winning, she would need approx 317 votes. She has 315 Conservative MPs, but not all of them will vote for the deal. She has in the past been able to rely on the 10 DUP votes, but, again, it doesn't look like they will vote for teh deal. Not unless something amazing happens with that pesky backstop stuff. So, if we are incredibly generous and say that when push comes to shove, only 20 Conservative MPs vote against the deal (in the votes this week, at least 20 have voted against the government). That would give her 295 or so votes from her party. She would then need 22 votes from Labour and/or the Lib Dems. That's a real stretch.
There will, though, be deals being done. There have been endless drinks at Number 10 (presumably with soft alternatives for those Dry January-ing). It's possible, maybe, that she can nudge the vote over the line. Possible.
What happens next?
If she wins - we'll see a flurry of activity. We need several laws passed before March 29th, and they won't be easy. The Immigration Bill for one. The Agriculture Bill. The Fisheries Bill. And more. Parliament will be very busy getting all this sorted. We'll then leave on 29th March and begin the transition period, which won't feel very different to what we've got now.
If she loses - We now know that she'll have to return to Parliament on Monday 21st with a Plan B. Which means that it's unlikely anything major would happen before then. If she's got nothing particularly different, then various things might happen. I'll go through them below. If she's managed to get clear and legally binding changes in the agreement, it's probably quite likely that she wins the vote on the second attempt. I think that there are many Conservative MPs who have committed themselves to vote against the agreement first time around, but who would be fairly easily persuadable the second time.
If she can't get changes, then four alternatives are possible. We renegotiate with the EU, we leave with no deal, we have a second referendum or we have a general election.
Renegotiate - The EU has suggested that there is no re-negotiation. But. That could be a negotiation technique. If the vote doesn't get through, it is, in theory at least, possible that they are happy to look at the deal again. It is unclear, though, which bits they would be happy to change. The EU has also been clear that they wouldn't be prepared to extend Article 50 in order to renegotiate. Again, I guess we're hoping that's just them playing hardball and they are prepared to give us a bit of extra time.
No deal - Parliament have made it clear that there is a majority of MPs who want to stop a no deal Brexit. If there is no (acceptable) deal on the table, that suggests that we may need to look at the other options. It's worth briefly looking at no deal, though. We have written in law that we're leaving on 29th March. So if we vote against May's deal, argue for a bit, play the blame game, brief against each other, etc etc etc, we could find that it's suddenly April and we're out.
There is talk of a managed no deal. That would mean doing little side deals on, say citizens rights, and aviation and other kinda important things. There is also talk of a 'WTO deal'. That's code for a very hard no deal Brexit, but Brexiteers think that the term 'no deal' is so toxic, they've cleverly found a way of calling 'no deal' a deal. It means we leave and trade on World Trade Organisation tariffs. Like I say, both these options are heavily opposed by the majority of MPs, so things would have to have broken down substantially for this to become a reality.
2nd referendum and/or General Election - Here's how the theory works. May loses the vote. May comes back on 21st January but has nothing extra to give. There is an impasse in the Commons. There is nothing that MPs can agree on, except they don't want to have no deal. Two things could happen. Interestingly, and vitally, there have been sounds from the EU that they might be happy to extend Article 50 for either eventuality.
Corbyn could force a vote of no confidence in the government. If the DUP support that, he might just have enough votes to win. That triggers two weeks for the Conservative Party to move the cups around sufficiently that they get the DUP back on side. IF they don't win a second vote in early February, a General Election would be called. In the elections, all parties would clarify their position on Brexit through their manifesto. The (new?) Prime Minister would then have a real mandate to renegotiate/deliver on their Brexit promises and the government (who may now have a clear majority) should be able to vote something through. This is very much Corbyn's preference. He'd really, really like to see this happen. A lot.
The other option to break this Commons stalemate is a second referendum. MPs can't agree on anything, so send it back to the people. Maybe with an AV style three-way vote: no deal, May's deal, no Brexit. There would be two rounds of vote counting, with second preferences taken into consideration if nothing gets 50% in the first round. The people can then vote and there'll be a winner and the country can just do that. There are various routes to this, but it is hard for Parliament to force Theresa May's hand. And May has made it very clear it's not what she wants. It's also not what Corbyn wants. It's not impossible. The Speaker has shown he is a champion of Parliament and may allow an amendment to something that MPs could then vote for that vote.
Tatton's best guess as to what on earth might happen
Disclaimer: I am utterly terrible at predictions.
I still believe that MPs and the public generally tend towards the status quo. Lots of people have made their positions quite difficult now, so will have to vote against the motion on 15th. They would lose too much face to do such a quick U-turn. But, if the PM can make changes after that (and, if she was clever, she may already have changes agreed with the EU bods, she just knows they'll have more of an impact after the vote), she will almost certainly bring many of her own MPs in from the cold. As we get closer to 29th March, she may also find Liberal and Labour votes easier to attract, too.
As such, I think she loses on 15th, comes back with a couple of adjustments on 21st, schedules more days of debate with a vote on 29th. Which she wins.
At that point, Parliament swings into overdrive to pass all the necessary legislation, we'll see MPs sitting at weekends and all that jazz. There may be some uncomfortable amendments made, but, ultimately, we'll leave on 29th March as planned.
Sunday - Tune in to Ridge and Marr. There will big-name guests, big ideas and hard questioning. Vital TV. Monday - Brexit debate in the Commons. Even the weekly Westminster Hall debate on a popular petition is about Brexit. It's that kind of week.
Tuesday - Before we get onto the Commons, today is actually quite a big day in the Lords. Three Bills make the end of their HoL journey. Details all below.
In the Commons, obviously, it's the Big Vote. There will be votes on 6 amendments first. These will be selected by the Speaker on the day. Personally, I don't think there will be a majority for any of the changes.
Voting will start at 7ish. Follow it all with us.
Wednesday - PMQs should be tasty. Whatever happened last night. In theory, the Commons is looking at the Immigration Bill today. That's because they're planning on a win - and then buckling down to all the Brexit legislation. I'm fairly sure that this will be pulled if the vote is lost.
Thursday- Not much planned. We'll see what level of chaos we're in, I suppose. Orderly waiting for Monday? Votes of no confidence? Thousands on the streets calling for a referendum / WTO deal Brexit / whatever? It's the guessing that makes this whole thing as fun as it is.
Friday - No Parliament. Expect the media to be filled with 'senior backbench Conservative says 'blah blah blah'.
Our pick of the laws being debated in the House of Lords next week.
Voyeurism (Offences) No.2 Bill
This Bill will make it illegal to photograph, or video, people under their clothing (commonly known as “upskirting”) without their consent. It will update the Sexual Offences Act, so there no longer needs to be separate witnesses to the offence, and the worst offenders will be placed on the sex offenders register.
The Bill was originally a Private Members’ Bill, but it was talked out of the House of Commons and ran out of time to progress and become law. This caused an outcry from the public and from many MPs, and so the Home Secretary agreed to reintroduce it as a Government Bill, giving it a much greater chance of becoming law.
Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill
This Bill aims to strengthen the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy and is partly in response to the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury earlier this year. It will introduce a number of new laws, including the ability of police and immigration officers to question people suspected of hostile activities at airports and ports, and then potentially deport them. It will also introduce longer sentences of up to 15 years for terrorist propaganda offences and make it easier to tackle those who stream or repeatedly view extremist material online. As with most counter-terrorism measures this will be heavily scrutinised by civil liberties and human rights groups.
Renters currently pay an average of £200-£300 in letting fees per tenancy although many pay significantly more than this. This Bill will deliver the Government's commitment to banning letting fees paid by tenants as well as capping tenancy deposits in England to no more than six weeks rent. This will mean that tenants will be able to see, at a glance, what a given property will cost them in the advertised rent with no hidden costs such as administration fees from letting agents, which will be paid by the landlord instead of the tenant and should make letting fees more competitive, rather than the assumption that whatever fee is charged will automatically paid by the tenant.