This email is supposed to be about what's happening next week. And I will get to that, I promise, but I think it's important to reflect on last week and where that puts us.
Everyone knew that the deal vote would be lost. Everyone. Just as predictable was that they would pull the Second Reading of the Immigration Bill the next day in favour of a confidence vote that the government was always going to win. That's a day of an important new Bill swapped out for a debate on a vote that everyone knew had zero chance of changing anything.
Which brings us to where we are now. And where we are now is pretty darn difficult for all involved. The PM needs a new plan, but if she shifts to the right of her party towards a no deal vibe, she'll alienate those on the left / softer Brexit fans. Clearly, the opposite is also true, she'll royally annoy the Brexiteers if she goes for a softer option. So she can't move very far in either direction.
The EU has suggested that if she drops some of her red lines, they might be up for a bit more negotiating. But Theresa May doesn't sound like she's in the mood to drop her red lines. Sure, she'll chat to a few MPs from different parties, but there is little evidence that these discussions will change anything significantly.
We have now got a few details about timings at least. On Monday, the Big Cheese herself will layout plans to MPs. That'll be at around 3.30. There will be a 90 minute or so Q&A. We then wait a week and have a full day debate on Tuesday 29th January, followed by votes, presumably starting around 7 pm. That's Big Vote III (subtitle: C'mon guys. This time.)
Now, what is striking about the 29th? Yep. That's exactly two months before we are set to leave the EU. As of today, there are about 40 days that MPs are due to sit. This process will eat up 6 of them. So that's approximately 34 sitting days. Within that time there is a huge amount to do. There are several Bills that need to complete their journey by 29th March, if we've a transition period to go into or not.
Important stuff that needs sorting
The Fisheries Bill, The Agriculture Bill, The Trade Bill, The Animal Welfare Bill, The Healthcare Bill, The Environment Bill and the Immigration Bill all need completing. And some of them are really very complex and controversial - they will need lots of time to debate. That's not even including the Withdrawal Agreement Bill which will put down any agreement made in law.
That's eight significant new laws in 36 days. Some of them have been started and, actually, some are being debated next week, but it's still a huge amount to do. Let's not forget, too, that lots of MPs aren't doing what they're told by their leaders. The government is being defeated regularly. This is a mammoth task.
Which all brings us back to speculation that we're going to need to extend Article 50 no matter what. The theory goes that in no eventuality will we be ready by 29th March 2019. There was some softening of language on this possibility at PMQs, so we may yet see that as part of the package of plans to be announced on Monday.
Which brings us back to next week. See. I told you we'd get here.
After a flurry of Brexit activity in both chambers on Monday, Parliament will return to it's holding pattern for the rest of the week. A few minor Bills will be debated. Thursday will see the return of the dreaded 'General Debate'. These are often, as this week, on very worthy subjects, but no action is taken as a result, no injustices solved, no hungry children fed. If it were up to me, I'd relegate all 'General Debates' to Westminster Hall (the second debating chamber) and focus activity in the Chamber to things that solve the problems facing our country.
All of which means we've got Monday and then, for the rest of the week, endless MPs telling journalists what exact form of Brexit they want. Why they are / are not going to support the PM on Tuesday 29th. Whether they are in favour of a second referendum or think it's the worst idea in the world.
In short, lovely reader, we're going to go back to exactly the same conversations that we've had to put up with since early December around teh time Big Vote I was pulled. Oh. And it's Blue Monday, too. Sounds about right to me.
Peace and love,
Sunday - If you're looking for clues as to what might be in the Plan B envelope, some might appear on Ridge (Sky News 9am) and Marr (BBC One 10am). Monday - Big Brexit day!
Both the Commons and the Lords are looking at Brexit legislation today. MPs get to discuss healthcare arrangements and Lords discuss trade. Details of both are below. We also get a statement from the Prime Minister in which she outlines her Plan B.
Tuesday - Brexit? What Brexit? MPs are looking at the Counter-Terrorism Bill today (again, details below). Lords are wrapped up in technical stuff. TV channels will have to make their own Brexit fun by interviewing Anna Soubry and Jacob Ress-Mogg over and over and over again.
Wednesday - PMQs. I used to love PMQs. A weekly opportunity for the Commons to hold the PM to account. Right now, though, it's just very dull. We've seen Corbyn v May on so many occasions, it now feels like some 80s band, back together for the money, banging out the old hits that nobody really wants to hear any more. Who knows, maybe this one will be different. Maybe.
Then it's the Tenant Fees Bill, which is there to make sure that the tenth Doctor gets properly paid for his role in Good Omens. No. Sorry. It's not. What larks we have, you and me, eh? What larks. No, the Tenant Fees Bill stops tenants from paying letting agents fees.
The Lords are on day two of the Trade Bill, for you die-hard Brexit debate fans.
Thursday- General Debate time! We've got Holocaust Memorial Day 2019 and ME Treatment today. It's worth tuning in before those, though, because the Brexit Department will be taking questions from 9.30-10.30am.
Friday - No Parliament. I normally try to explain that MPs are very busy and just because Parliament isn't sitting it doesn't mean they have a day off. They are normally hard at work in their constituencies. Even with that taken into account, though, it does feel like there might be one or two important issues to sort out in Westminster...
Our pick of the laws being debated in the Parliament next week.
This is one of the nine new pieces of legislation that lay the groundwork for Brexit. This Bill will attempt to carve out a future for Britain as an independent trading nation after we leave the EU. The Bill will create powers so the UK can transition trade agreements that currently exist between the EU and other countries, and which we are party to through our EU membership. It will also set up a new Trade Remedies Authority, to defend UK businesses against unfair trade practices.
Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill
This Bill will give the Government powers to set up and fund healthcare deals with other countries after it leaves the EU. At the moment the UK has Reciprocal Healthcare agreements with other countries based on its EU membership. These agreements support people from the UK to obtain healthcare when they live in, work in or visit other countries and vice versa, for people from other EU countries in the UK. The Bill has already attracted some criticism as it does not mention retaining the European Healthcare Insurance Card that ministers had previously said they would consider.
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.