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Brexit: Indicative Votes


As Parliament looks to find a Brexit breakthrough, Jack Simpson looks at what votes are on the table, and what they actually mean.

As part of its numerous attempts to try and break the Brexit deadlock, Parliament will start voting on its preferred Brexit outcome. This means MPs will vote Yes or No for several Brexit outcomes (on a secret ballot paper), to indicate to the Government which would be acceptable to Parliament, and have the best chance of passing.

The outcomes with most "Yes" answers today will then go to a second vote next week, where MPs will likely be asked to rank them by preference.

Note, these votes won’t change the Withdrawal Agreement as it stands, but will signal what MPs want for the future. This will hopefully provide some clarity as to what the UK’s final relationship with Europe will be, and allow better preparation for it.

It had been a major criticism that signing away the Agreement without a future framework would bind the UK to a blind and potentially harmful Brexit. You must have the Withdrawal Agreement to have a deal.

So, back to the vote, the Speaker has selected the below eight options to be debated tonight, with an announcement expected around 9:30pm.

Customs Union- The UK will pursue the negotiation of “permanent and comprehensive UK wide Customs Union” with Europe. A Customs Union allows member states to move goods freely between them, and set a common “external tariff” to outsider goods, and allows member goods to count to “Rules of Origin”. This excludes services and procurement, and would mean the UK is restricted in forming its own trade deals. EU would be open, but tough to swallow for Brexiters.

EEA/EFTA- The UK would join the European Economic Area, like Norway, and be part of the Single Market, but not part of a Customs Union. The Single Market non-tariff barriers by harmonising trading regulations, and creating level playing fields for procurement and financial services. Single Market includes the “Four Freedoms” allowing free movement of capital, goods, labour and services. EU & EFTA states are tentative on the issue, but domestic acceptance of Labour movement and the UK continuing to pay into the EU budget might be lacking.

Labour Plan- A deep trading relationship based on a Customs Union, regulatory alignment and a UK say on third-party trade deals (i.e. India). The first half of this proposal is sound, as the EU has welcomed such an alignment, but need greater clarity over Single Market participation, but they're unlikely to tolerate any major influence over EU agencies and particularly future trade deals, without being members. Could be a lame duck proposal.

Common Market 2.0- The UK joins Norway in Single Market membership, and joins a Customs Arrangement until a technological Free Trade Deal can facilitate frictionless trade and an open Irish border. Supporters say they would look to restrict Freedom of Movement (key Leave promise), but EU has said the “Four Freedoms” (Goods, Capital & Services) are indivisible. Would require serious negotiation, and likely compromise elsewhere.

Malthouse Compromise- A cross party idea, that calls for the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, but replace the backstop with “Alternative Arrangements”, as yet unclear. Will then call for extended paid for transition with industrial agreements for the future. EU has been clear that it will not move on the Withdrawal Agreement, especially the Backstop.

Confirmatory Vote- Not a future deal, but a guarantee that any future deal would be put to the public with a likely choice of “Deal or Remain”. This is tabled by local MP Phil Wilson (Sedgefield, Lab), and Peter Kyle (Hove).

No Deal- A chaotic and unacceptable form of Brexit which has been covered here.

Revoke Article 50- If Government is lacking a deal and/or necessary legislation the day before exit day, the UK will unilaterally revoke Article 50, and stop Brexit. Talk has been whipped into a frenzy recently, with an online petition reaching over 5million signatures and a strong demonstration over the weekend. Government has announced it has no intention to stop Brexit through revocation.

These are only brief guides to the options, and there will be a number of factors, economic, social and political, that I haven’t been to detail without writing a book length piece. However, this process should have taken place days after the referendum, not days before departure, and is representative of the clear lack of engagement and leadership from the Government that has fostered the conditions of uncertainty.

Government should work with, not against, stakeholders, including the business community, to build an economic and political consensus that commands support, not exasperation. We should be optimistic about our future, not frustrated, and I can only hope this will be the start of a new constructive approach to this weary process.