Last night, the House of Commons (the Commons) held a series of indicative votes following its resolution of 25 March 2019 which provided for a series of votes on ways the Government could proceed as regards its Brexit strategy.
Earlier in the day, the Commons debated the Business of the House motion stemming from the Commons’ resolution, setting out the ground rules for the voting. The Business of the House motion was passed without amendment.
Sixteen options were tabled for an ‘indicative vote’ as to how the Government should proceed with Brexit. Of these, the following eight were chosen for debate by the Speaker and subsequently voted on:
- Option (B): agrees to leave the EU on 12 April without a deal. This option was rejected 400 votes to 160.
- Option (D): Government joins the European Economic Area through the European Free Trade Association, and negotiates a temporary Customs Union until alternative arrangements can be found. This option was rejected 283 votes to 188.
- Option (H): the UK remains in the European Economic Area, and applies to re-join the European Free Trade Association. Declines to form a Customs Union but seeks “agreement on new protocols relating to the Northern Ireland border and agri-food trade”. This option was rejected 377 votes to 65.
- Option (J): enshrine the objective to form a Customs Union in primary legislation. This option was rejected 272 votes to 264.
- Option (K): negotiate changes to the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration to secure Labour’s position, and pass these objectives into law. This is Labour’s alternative Brexit plan. This option was rejected 307 votes to 237.
- Option (L): if the Withdrawal (Agreement) Bill has not been passed before exit day, the government will ask MPs to approve no deal. If this does not pass, the government will revoke Article 50. This option was rejected 293 votes to 184.
- Option (M): Government cannot implement or ratify the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration unless and until they have been approved in a referendum. This option was rejected 295 votes to 268.
- Option (O): also known as Malthouse Plan B. The UK makes its budgetary contributions to the EU to the end of 2020 and agrees with the EU a period of two years in which UK goods have full access to the EU. This option was rejected 422 votes to 139.
Unusually, MPs voted for each option via ballot paper rather than through filing through the lobbies of Parliament. As regards next steps, the Business of the House motion also provides for MPs to ‘take control’ of Parliamentary proceedings on Monday 1 April 2019. MP’s are expected to debate and hold further indicative votes that day on the same options, in a bid to find at least one option which has majority support in the House of Commons.
It is worth noting that indicative votes are not legally binding on the Government’s position although they would carry significant political weight. Theresa May has, however, been previously reported in the media as indicating that she is “sceptical” about the process and cannot agree to guarantee to implement the result.
At the start of yesterday’s debate the Speaker told the House of Commons: “I understand the Government may be thinking about bringing a third meaningful vote before the House either tomorrow or even on Friday, if the House opts to sit that day. Therefore, in order there should be no misunderstanding, I wish to make clear that I do expect the Government to meet the test of change. They should not seek to circumvent my ruling by means of tabling either a notwithstanding or a paving motion. The tabling office has been instructed no such motion would be accepted.”
The House of Commons also debated and approved The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Exit Day) (Amendment) Regulations 2019. These Regulations change, in domestic law, the definition of ‘exit day’ within the European Union (Withdrawal Act) 2018, from 29 March 2019 to: 12 May 2019, if the third meaningful vote is passed in the House of Commons by 29 March (in accordance with European Council Decision (EU) 2019/476), otherwise 12 April 2019. The House of Lords also debated a motion approving the statutory instrument prior to the Commons’ vote, and subsequently voted to approve the Regulations. The Regulations were made on 28 March and have been published on legislation.gov.uk.