Against the backdrop of a Conservative Party leadership race and talk of a looming general election, members of parliament (MPs) will on Monday hold a second round of so-called “indicative” votes on alternatives to Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
It is widely expected the option most likely to get a House of Commons majority is for a customs union — a much softer Brexit than the one offered by the prime minister.
Tory chief whip Julian Smith has said that the parliamentary arithmetic means a “softer type of Brexit” is inevitable.
The result of the vote is not binding on the government. But the PM will come under intense political pressure to adopt whatever parliament decides.
David Gauke, the justice secretary, warned on Sunday that it would not be “sustainable” for May to ignore the will of parliament.
The MPs behind the plan have warned if May ignores the vote, parliament will move to change the law to give her no choice.
John Bercow, the Speaker of the Commons, will choose from the list below which will be put to a vote at 8 p.m. BST (3 p.m. ET).
Indicative vote options
Motion A: Unilateral right of exit from the backstop.
Tory lawmakers, led by John Baron, want the UK to leave the European Union on May 22, 2019, with the Withdrawal Agreement amended to allow the UK unilaterally to exit the controversial Northern Ireland backstop.
Motion B: No deal in the absence of a Withdrawal Agreement.
Another proposal from Baron, which calls for a no-deal Brexit on April 12 if no Withdrawal Agreement can be agreed by the Commons.
Tory former chancellor Ken Clarke’s customs union plan requires any Brexit deal to include, as a minimum, a commitment to negotiate a “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU”. This was defeated by the smallest margin in the first round, falling just six votes short.
Motion D: Common market 2.0.
Put forth by Conservatives Nick Boles, Robert Halfon and Dame Caroline Spelman and Labour’s Stephen Kinnock, Lucy Powell plus the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) Stewart Hosie. The motion proposes UK membership of the European Free Trade Association and European Economic Area.
It allows continued participation in the single market and a “comprehensive customs arrangement” with the EU after Brexit – including a “UK say” on future EU trade deals – would remain in place until the agreement of a wider trade deal which guarantees frictionless movement of goods and an open border in Ireland.
Motion E: Confirmatory public vote.
It has been drawn up by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson. This motion would require a public vote to confirm any Brexit deal passed by Parliament before its ratification. This option, put forward last time by Labour former minister Dame Margaret Beckett, polled the highest number of votes although was defeated by 295 votes to 268.
Motion F: Public vote to prevent no deal.
Moved by Labour’s Graham Jones and Tory former minister Dominic Grieve, this proposal would require a referendum, if necessary, to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal.
Motion G: Parliamentary supremacy.
SNP MP Joanna Cherry joins with Grieve and MPs from other parties with this plan to seek an extension to the Brexit process, and if this is not possible then Parliament will choose between either no-deal or revoking Article 50. An inquiry would follow to assess the future relationship likely to be acceptable to Brussels and have majority support in the UK.
A motion put forward by Conservative MP George Eustice – who quit as agriculture minister to fight for Brexit – proposes rejoining the European Free Trade Association (Efta) at the “earliest opportunity”, agree a short extension to the UK’s membership of the EU to conclude accession to Efta and negotiate with the EU additional protocols relating to the Northern Ireland border and agri-food trade.
May’s deal is coming back for more
If at first, second and third you don’t succeed — give it another bash. On Friday, MPs rejected the prime minister’s latest attempt to push a version of her deal through. But it looks like she is gearing up for another swing later this week.
In theory, a Commons majority for a soft Brexit in the indicative votes could actually help the PM.
Downing Street will hope it will scare the remaining hardcore pro-Brexit Tory MPs who oppose the PM into finally backing her deal as the least worst option.
And if all else fails — a general election?
To add to the pressure on Tory MPs, May has hinted she might be prepared to go for the nuclear option of trying to hold a general election to try and break the impasse. Even though that did not go very well for her last time.
“I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House,” the PM told the Commons last week.
Deputy party chairman James Cleverly upped the ante on Sunday when he declared “sensible and pragmatic” preparations were under way in case the government was forced to go to the country early.
Alistair Burt, the former Foreign Office minister who resigned from the government last week to back the indicative votes, summed up the mood of many backbenchers. “I am with Brenda from Bristol on this, ‘Oh no, not another one!’