Jack Simpson looks at what happens next, as the UK inches closer towards the cliff edge.
So here we are, April 1st, two days after March 29th and still members of the European Union, and now more than ever the UK's global future hangs in the balance of uncertainty.
The Brexit negotiations, Article 50, have currently been extended to April 12th, but Government must provide its plan at the next EU Summit on April 10th, or risk leaving the European Deal on a chaotic No Deal. That is just eight working days to find agreement, or a whole new approach.
Luckily, there is a cunning plan this week to resolve this crisis: Have more Brexit votes.
Back to the Indicative Votes
Last week Parliament failed, out of eight different options, to agree a preferred Brexit outcome, via the “Indicative Votes” process. The general idea is to find what kind of a Brexit (Free Trade Agreement, Customs Union etc.) most MPs could accept, and therefore pass. The Chamber looked at them last week, here.
Since the last vote, two of the eight options have been dropped. The Malthouse Compromise, a pay as you go transition with “alternative arrangements” (whatever that is) to the Irish border, and the Labour Plan (whatever THAT is), have been pulled, meaning there will be six options to vote on (shown below).
Brexit Options Tabled for Monday, April 1st. Source: Brigid Fowler.
Having set their stalls out last week, MPs will be in discussion with one another and be seeking to agree to at least one Brexit outcome- compromise. This is a tedious, maybe frustrating, but necessary exercise of our democracy. Which is why I am dumfounded that it was organised a few days before leaving, rather than a few days after the referendum.
Anyway, back to the now, the most likely option to pass is “Permanent UK-Wide Customs Union”, which failed by only 6 votes, but with Lib Dems and SNP abstaining/opposing all Leave outcomes, support will be needed from moderates. Customs Union will remove tariff barriers to member country's, and allow CU member parts to count towards Rules of Origin, however there will be restrictions on independent trade deals and new administrative burdens.
A confirmatory referendum, co-authored by regional MP Phil Wilson (Sedgefield; LAB) commanded the most votes, but still lost by 27 votes. This would mean any agreed deal would have to be put back to the public. On the other side of the spectrum, a No Deal scenario was voted down by 240 votes (160-400).
Voting is expected to take place at 8 pm tonight (Monday 1st April), with results announced at around 10 pm.
Meaningful Vote Goes Forth (or Third?)
Despite being rejected for the third time in a row, Theresa May will push for a fourth, and potentially, hopefully, final vote on her Withdrawal Agreement. The Chamber looked at the Agreements content here, and nothing has changed since it was defeated by 200, 149 then 58 votes.
Besides the Backstop, the main source of criticism for the Withdrawal Agreement is that it sets out no vision of the trading future for the UK. This means that the UK could be binding itself to leave on hugely unfavourable terms without the ability to pull back. The Leave campaign was centred on a brighter future, and we should expect no less. The Chamber looked at the Withdrawal Agreement in the North East, here.
It might be acceptable if the Withdrawal Agreement is attached to the agreed Parliamentary Brexit outcome, and at least that way, business would have some idea of where the UK will land, and what preparations might be required, rather than current levels of ambiguity in which all options are still on the table.
May has announced she will resign once the Withdrawal phase is completed (i.e. this Agreement passes). However, following the third defeat last week, there was intense speculation when the Prime Minister concluded "I fear we are reaching the limits... in this House". Could we have a new Prime Minister, or election, by the weekend?
This vote is currently pencilled in for Thursday, but who know what will have happened by then. This has been an incredibly dynamic process, in which we’ve barely moved an inch forward since 2016, but we might finally get a breakthrough in finding out what Brexit means, and, critically, how we can best be ready for the future.