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Parliament will get a vote on the final draft Brexit deal before it goes to European Parliament. That may sound like an important concession – except that saying “no” in such circumstances will just mean crashing out of the EU with no deal.

Potential Tory rebels such as Nicky Morgan seem to have been bought off by the statement (go to 14:40). Labour’s Brexit spokesperson Keir Starmer also accepted that the government had made a big concession in offering an early vote on the final deal. 

But this was too quick. David Jones, the Brexit minister, admitted under cross-questioning (go to 14:53) that the choice parliament would actually get was between any deal the government negotiated and “no deal”. 

If Theresa May produces a bad deal, such a choice would be between the devil and driving off a cliff into the deep blue sea. After all, if there was no deal, we would have to rely on third-rate World Trade Organisation terms to govern commerce with a market that accounts for half our trade.

The government’s “concession” isn’t totally useless. The promise to bring a draft deal to parliament before it goes to the European Parliament could give MPs and peers up to six monthsto figure something out if May produces a dreadful deal before the two-year Article 50 process runs its course. 

Despite the fact that the government is now saying the alternative would be “no deal”, parliament could still tell May, in say October 2018, to go back to the negotiating table. It could even conclude that the deal was so awful that the voters should be asked in another referendum whether they still really wanted to leave.

That said, given the way the government has framed its “concession”, it will be harder to escape the binary choice between deal and “no deal” when the negotiations have run their course. It would therefore be better if the bill now going through parliament was amended to make it clear that other options were possible.

The government has made a crafty statement which looked at first glance like an important concession. It’s a shame so many MPs seem to have fallen for it.

by Hugo Dixon | 07.02.2017


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