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27 March 2019

Edelman Brexit Bulletin: Indicative Votes, An Explainer

Government Affairs, News

Big Ben Clock Tower in London England

By the Edelman London Public Affairs team

With a possible 16 alternative Brexit options all circulating in Parliament, it’s easy to ask how might it all land? You need look no further, as the Edelman team has produced an explainer setting out the process, details and possible outcomes from tonight’s indicative votes.

Today MPs take control of Parliamentary business as they mount an effort to take control of Brexit. This evening MPs will vote on alternatives to the PMs Brexit deal – ranging from calls for a second referendum, to a softer Brexit through to a no deal – with a second run off between the most popular options set for this coming Monday.

MPs will also vote tonight on the legal instrument necessary to ensure that the extension of Article 50 that has been agreed with the EU is fully compliant with domestic legislation. 

As the PM loses control over Parliament, for today at least, she will seek to assert some level of control over her Party this evening, when she addresses the 1922 Committee, the shop stewards for Conservative MPs. Speculation is rife, not for the first time, that she will detail plans for her departure in the hope that this would see Tory Brexiter rebels agree to support her Brexit deal. If she can pull that off, then we could see a third vote on her Brexit deal before the end of the week. Regardless of what she says tonight her deal will still depend on the position of another political party entirely – her Democratic Unionist allies. If the 10 MPs from that party swing behind her deal, then it is still possible she could win through.

For the full explainer of what is happening tonight and how it will work, Edelman’s London Public Affairs team’s detailed rundown is attached and below. 

Indicative votes: an explainer

This afternoon MPs will hold a series of indicative votes to test the will of the House of Commons on different approaches to Brexit – ranging from a confirmatory referendum, to reshaping the political declaration to call for a Norway style deal, seek a customs union, through to calls for a no deal Brexit.

This is due to be followed on Monday 1 April by a second debate and indicative vote, which is widely expected to be, in essence, a run-off between the most popular propositions to emerge from this evening’s vote. 

 Summary

  • Tonight MPs will be given a paper ballot which lists all of the various Brexit options selected for vote by the Speaker.
  • Using a paper ballot, MPs will vote “yes” or “no” to all options at once.
  • The result of this will be declared later this evening.
  • On Monday 1 April, there is due to be a second set of indicative votes, which is likely to be a choice between the most popular plans to emerge from this evenings debate.

What are MPs going to vote on?

MPs will debate and vote on a series of alternative Brexit plans. Most of these are likely to involve various forms of softening Brexit – from calls for a standalone Customs Union, to demands that the UK also join the European Economic Area (so called Norway Plus/Common Market 2.0). Brexiteers also likely to seek to gauge support for a no deal Brexit or “Canada style” Free Trade Agreement. We also expect to see MPs consider plans to hold a second “confirmatory” referendum, which would make the passage of any deal contingent upon a public vote on the deal, with remain as an option.

The options under consideration this evening largely relate to the Political Declaration, the non-binding part of the Brexit deal which establishes the framework for negotiations on the final trade deal. All of the propositions likely to be considered by MPs today, with the exception of any calling for a no deal exit, would see the Withdrawal Agreement – the portion outlining the terms of the UKs exit, including the Northern Irish backstop – remain unamended, with one proposition for a unilateral exit from the backstop also having been tabled by Brexiteers. Most of those backing alternative Brexit plans argue that their propositions would obviate the need for the backstop to ever be used. 

How will the process work?

  1. Overnight MPs submitted motions to the Speaker outlining their alternative Brexit plan. Proposals which have previously been rejected by MPs may be resubmitted as part of this process.
  2. At 14:00 MPs will debate, for no more than an hour, the Business Motion outlining the proposed process for tonight’s indicative votes.
  3. If MPs approve the Business Motion, then at 15:00 the Speaker will then select those motions which have the most support and represent the breadth of opinion in the House. It is expected that he will select between six and ten motions. If any MPs with to withdraw their motion, then they must do so by 16:00.
  4. MPs will debate the various propositions until 19:00.
  5. At 19:00 MPs will begin voting on the various propositions. Rather than voting aye or no by walking through the relevant voting lobby, MPs will instead vote on a paper ballot. The ballot will list all of the various propositions, and MPs will be able to vote “Yes” or “No” to each of the various proposals. They will vote on all of these options at the same time, and they will be able to endorse more than one proposal.
  6. MPs will have 30 minutes to vote, and although the vote will be on paper, it will not be a secret ballot, and all votes will be recorded. This will allow us to see how individual MPs have voted on each of the proposals.
  7. It is expected that votes will take up to an hour to be counted. While this happens, MPs will debate and then vote on the Statutory Instrument changing the date of Brexit in the EU Withdrawal Act.
  8. The Speaker will announce the results of the indicative votes following the SI debate. This means we should not expect the results before 20:30, and they could be as late as 21:30 if the SI debate lasts 90 minutes.
  9. Monday April 1 will then be set aside for another indicative votes debate. The details of this debate have not been confirmed, but it is expected that this will involve a run-off vote between the most popular proposals to arise from tonight’s debate and vote.

Will the process work?

The short answer is that only time will tell. It may be that indicative votes are a procedural answer to a political question, and therefore doomed to fail. Or it could be that they are the way to break the impasse, and help to produce a consensus around the kind of Brexit plan that MPs could get behind. Even if no option wins majority support, MPs are on the lookout for any proposal attracting 242 votes – the most the PM’s deal has secured so far. Having narrowed options down this evening, MPs could be given the opportunity to congregate around a single option in Monday’s indicative votes which look set to be a run off between the most popular alternatives to the PM’s plan. It is unclear if MPs will be presented with the Prime Ministers deal for a third time ahead of Monday.

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