Perhaps ‘indicative’ was too strong a word to describe a series of votes taken by MPs to find an alternative Brexit strategy. After twice rejecting the government’s plan, MPs have failed to determine any alternative put to the house by majority vote.

Of the 8 motions tabled those that received the largest support were: negotiating for a customs union, which failed by 6 votes, and a confirmatory public vote, which failed by 27. The motions that supported alternatives outside of a customs union were defeated by much larger margins, including leaving with no deal.

Protesters from Hastings at the Put it to the People demonstration in London
PICTURE: Diarmuid Rowan

Falling on Her Sword and Missing
The failure of any indicative vote to secure a majority allowed Theresa May time for one more attempt to get her deal through parliament. In order to put the deal to a vote it had to be substantially different to the previous two motions, so the government put forward the withdrawal agreement without the attached political declaration, one of two parts of the deal negotiated by May. In an extraordinary move May also met with the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs and agreed that, should she succeed in getting her deal through, she would resign. This won the support of a few notable Brexiters, including Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg; however, the agreement was rejected in a third vote. May failed to get her deal through and stayed on as Prime Minister.

Jeremy Corbyn said May should resign and called for a General Election.

Nicola Sturgeon said, “May is the first Prime Minister to fall on her sword and miss.”

On BBC’s Newsnight show, Nicholas Watt claimed a government minister had embarked on an expletive-speckled outburst while discussing the matter with him. 

“Fuck knows!” the minister apparently said, “I’m past caring. It’s like the living dead in here”. The anonymous minister went on to say, “Theresa May is the sole architect of this mess. It is her inability to engage in the most basic human interactions that brought us here.”

One of the more lucid explanations of how we came to be within a two-week deadline extension with currently no plan going forward came from Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis, in a video for the Financial Times entitled Varoufakis the Road to Brexit. Varoufakis also laid the blame squarely with the Prime Minister.

“It is the end game for her. An end that was predetermined at the very beginning. The moment she painted red lines on the floor that were impossible to not violate, and moreover, accepted Michel Barnier’s two phase negotiation – which was in a sense a declaration of war by the European Union establishment. They said to her, ‘There will be two phases, in the first phase you will give us everything we want, in the second we shall discuss what you want. If I were to say this to you, you should be offended. You should not only see this as an insult but naked aggression.”

Varoufakis gave the same analysis on BBC Question Time, where he concluded, “This is a deal that a nation signs only after being defeated at war. This is not a deal that is fit for purpose for any sovereign country.”

Where From Here?
The current legal position is that the UK leaves the EU on April 12th without a deal. If an alternative plan can be found before that date then the EU has agreed to an extension till 22nd May.

Sir Oliver Letwin MP suggested that the indicative votes would be tabled again on Monday: “Of course the issue is – and nobody knows the answer to this yet – whether we can get to the point where parliament has a majority in favour of an alternative on Monday,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

One alternative that could form the basis of a way forward is negotiating a Brexit deal with the EU based on a customs union, which could be put to the public in a confirmatory vote. Only however, if Labour can persuade the SNP or Liberal Democrats to support the customs union motion.

A customs union has been central to Labour’s Brexit policy and the party has backed a confirmatory vote but would require the support of MPs from other parties to pass any such motion.

It is unlikely the current government would countenance a customs union or any of the options that could achieve a majority in the House of Commons – a two-year extension might be necessary in order to negotiate a new deal. Theresa May has promised that she would not lead the Conservatives into another election, her resignation and a General Election could be imminent.

Meanwhile, The Mirror reports that Jeremy Corbyn has stepped up his exercise routine in preparation for being Prime Minister. This includes regular 7k runs and visiting the gym, although the Mirror were unable to learn Corbyn’s best 5k time or how much he can bench.


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