Summary:

  • On April 1, 2019, UK Parliament implemented the second phase of its ‘Indicative Votes’ process, which had been devised to find out if there was a UK Parliamentary majority for any one Brexit strategy, following Friday’s third UK Parliamentary defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement that was negotiated between the UK Government and EU.

Chart available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/uk-politics-46393399

  • All four alternate Brexit strategies put forward were rejected by UK Parliament. The four proposals put forward were:
    • Customs Union: This plan requires any Brexit deal to include, as a minimum, a commitment to negotiate a “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU”. This was defeated by the smallest margin, falling just three votes short of an overall majority.
    • Common Market 2.0: This proposes UK membership of the European Free Trade Association and European Economic Area. It allows continued participation in the single market, and a “comprehensive customs arrangement” with the EU after Brexit – including a “UK say” on future EU trade deals – would remain in place until the agreement of a wider trade deal that guarantees frictionless movement of goods and an open border in Ireland. This proposal was defeated by 21 votes, but it should be noted that 95 Members of Parliament abstained on the vote, the highest of any of the four options. Political commentary would suggest that this plan could yet win a majority if there is to be a third round of Indicative Votes.
  • Second Referendum: This plan requires a public vote to confirm any Brexit deal passed by UK Parliament before its ratification. This option polled the highest number of votes – 280 – although it was ultimately defeated by 13 votes. With relatively few abstentions (66), it has no easy path to an outright Parliamentary majority.
  • Parliamentary Supremacy: This plan entails seeking a long extension to the Brexit process, failing which, the granting of power to UK Parliament to choose between either No-Deal Brexit or No Brexit (via revocation of Article 50, the formal mechanism through which UK withdrawal of the EU is to be effected). This plan lost by the largest margin – 101 votes – and is not seen as politically palatable to many Members of Parliament.
  • The way forward remains unclear. The UK Government is thought to be keen on bringing back the Withdrawal Agreement for a fourth vote. However, its opponents note that three of the proposals detailed above (Customs Union, Common Market 2.0 and Second Referendum) lost by a narrower margin (3, 12 and 21, respectively) than the Withdrawal Agreement (49). UK Parliament is due to debate all strategies further on Wednesday.
  • As a result, the UK remains in a state of political paralysis, just 10 days away from the default position: No-Deal Brexit. At the same time, the EU continues to ramp up No-Deal preparations: Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has noted that a No-Deal Brexit is now “more likely”; while Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit negotiator, has suggested that Wednesday’s debate in UK Parliament marks “a last chance to break the deadlock or face the abyss”.