On Wednesday evening (27th March) the House of Commons held a series of so-called ‘indicative votes’ to see if there was a consensus for a way forward on Brexit different to the Prime Minister’s deal. These were not arranged by the Government but by the backbenches. Indicative votes have (very occasionally) been used before to test opinion asking MPs their views on a range of alternative solutions to a problem. They do not have a great track record of success. On Wednesday night they were again unsuccessful. MPs were asked to vote YES or NO to a number of propositions:
- A second referendum (For: 268, Against: 295);
- A customs union (For: 264, Against: 272);
- ‘Common Market 2.0’ (For: 188, Against: 307);
- EFTA and EEA membership (For: 65, Against: 377);
- Labour’s Brexit plan (For: 237, Against: 307);
- ‘Malthouse Plan B’ (For: 139, Against: 422);
- Leaving without a deal on 12 April 2019 (For: 160, Against: 400);
- Revoking Article 50 and staying in the EU (For: 184, Against: 293).
As you can see, all these options were rejected. I did not support any of them for the simple reason that I believe the best chances of delivering on Brexit in a meaningful way is to support the PM’s deal (this was not amongst the options given us). As I’ve written many times, whilst I have reservations about aspects of the deal, I have no doubt that it is the option most likely to deliver on the referendum result.
The arguments for a customs union, ‘Common Market 2.0’, EFTA and EEA, Labour’s plans to align to the single market, and so on, would all, effectively, make the UK a rule taker with no seat at the table which decides the rules. This, I believe, runs contrary to the opinion expressed during the referendum – it also runs contrary to the manifesto on which I stood in the 2017 General Election.
The suggestion that we should leave without a deal on 12 April 2019 remains an option if the deal is not passed soon. The agreement that the PM reached with the EU Council last week was that if the deal was not passed the UK would leave on 12 April and, if it is passed, then the UK will leave on 22 May to give Parliament enough time to pass the necessary legislation to embed the deal in domestic law. For this reason, I did not support the vote to leave on 12 April without a deal – it would be best if we left on 22 May with a deal as this would cause considerably less disruption to business and people’s lives.
I do not support a second referendum – whatever one thinks of the first referendum, it is clear that it was an instruction to leave the EU. Parliament has a duty to comply with that. The first referendum was highly divisive, a second would be more so, would probably lead to a second independence referendum in Scotland, and the result would almost certainly not be accepted by the losing side.
At the time of writing there remains a chance that the deal will go through. There is genuine movement towards it – Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees Mogg, Iain Duncan Smith and co. have come on board – and we are waiting to see whether some Labour MPs and the DUP will do likewise. If it does, we will be able to leave the EU on 22 May and move on to the trade negotiations. The Prime Minister has signalled her intention to step down at that point, making way for a new leader to conduct the next round of discussions. If the deal does not pass, there may end up being a General Election to break the parliamentary deadlock. This would inevitably lead to a long extension to the Article 50 process, UK participation in the EU Elections and continued uncertainty about the future of the country.
I want us to move on – and move on in a way which meets the commitments made in the manifesto I stood on in 2017. The opportunity is before us.