UK financial markets were generally calm this morning as the Parliamentary battle over Brexit entered a new phase.
A blizzard of amendments has been put down by MPs seeking to change what will be the second version of Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal plan.
Few details are available of the shape of this latest plan, which will be voted on by MPs on 29 January. Last week, Mrs May’s original deal went down in a crushing defeat, with 432 votes against and 202 in favour.
Domestic UK shares strengthen
The blue-chip FTSE 100 index was lower, down 0.35% at 6,945.91, but this may have reflected a general softening of European share prices. Markets were lower also in Amsterdam, Paris and Madrid,and unchanged in Frankfurt.
But the FTSE 250 index, which is much more reflective of domestic UK businesses, was 0.17% higher at 18,795.25, perhaps signalling market confidence that the Parliamentary impasse can be resolved.
Labour MP Helen Goodman rejected this idea, writing: “Some of my best friends are on the liaison committee, but a quarter of them are appointed not elected, and those who were elected were chosen for a quite different function – to scrutinise the government, not to perform executive functions.”
“Cloud cuckoo land”
But the amendments indicate that “backbench MPs” – those who are not ministers in the government – are determined to shape the final Brexit deal. Former Conservative Party leader, Cabinet Minister, and prominent Brexit supporter Iain Duncan Smith warned that allowing backbenchers to create legislation would cause "mayhem". He told the BBC: “I promise you those who think that the House of Commons could act as a government negotiating a trade deal are living in cloud cuckoo land."
Meanwhile, Mrs May has to negotiate one of the thorniest issues of the agreement, the so-called backstop arrangement designed to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. This would keep Northern Ireland closely aligned with the EU until a trade deal can be agreed between the UK and Brussels, but this backstop currently has no time limit.
This has angered those who believe it detaches Northern Ireland from the rest of the country, creating a de facto border in the Irish sea.