Indicative votes – a guide to what MPs will be debating today

Indicative votes – a guide to what MPs will be debating today

Today is the day when backbenchers seize control of the parliamentary agenda at the instigation of Sir Oliver Letwin for indicative votes on how MPs would like Brexit to look.

So what will happen when in the House of Commons today? Theresa May will be on parade for Prime Minister’s Questions at midday, after which there is a Ten Minute Rule Bill which, unless there are any Urgent Questions or Statements, will be followed by a debate on the business motion setting out the procedures for the rest of the day. This will presumably be moved from the backbenches by Sir Oliver Letwin, since he was the author of the motion which set up today’s shenanigans.

The business motion is quite lengthy and – assuming it is passed – will shut off the possibility of procedural rows involving the Speaker by:

  • stating that matters already voted on during this session can be voted on again
  • providing for motions to be withdrawn by their lead signatory during the course of the afternoon, once the debate has started
  • barring the prospect of MPs moving certain procedural motions that must be put to a vote, thereby using up scarce time

At the beginning of the debate proper, it will be up to the Speaker to announce which motions he has decided will be subject to the indicative votes out of the following 16 motions which have been submitted:

A) Constitutional and accountable government

Proposed by veteran eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash with backing from senior ERG supporters, this objects to the overriding of Standing Orders to allow backbenchers to control the agenda as they are doing today and proposes that in future it would need two thirds of MPs to back any such venture.   

B) No deal

Proposed by Conservative MP John Baron and colleagues, this proposes leaving the EU without a deal on 12th April.

C) Unilateral right of exit from backstop

Also proposed by John Baron, this backs leaving the EU on 22nd May with Theresa May’s deal  amended to allow the UK to unilaterally exit the Northern Ireland backstop.

D) “Common Market 2.0”

Proposed by a cross-party group led by Conservative Nick Boles and Labour’s Stephen Kinnock, this proposes UK membership of the European Free Trade Association and European Economic Area, allowing continued participation in the Single Market and a “comprehensive customs arrangement” with the EU after Brexit, which would remain in place until the agreement of a wider trade deal which guarantees frictionless movement of goods and an open border in Ireland.

E) Respect the referendum result

A cross-party proposal from 94 MPs including the Conservatives’ Will Quince, Labour-turned-Independent Frank Field and the DUP’s Nigel Dodds, this urges the House to “reaffirm its commitment to honour the result of the referendum that the UK should leave the European Union”.

F) Customs union (I)

Proposed by Stoke-on-Trent Central Labour MP Gareth Snell and a small clutch of his colleagues, this states that it should be the Government’s objective to implement a trade agreement including a customs union with the EU (and mirrors an amendment to the Trade Bill secured by Labour peers in the House of Lords).

G) Revoke Article 50 (I)

Proposed by the SNP’s Angus MacNeil, Tory MP Ken Clarke and a clutch of Labour, SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs, this calls on the Government to “urgently” bring forward any legislation needed to revoke Article 50 “in the event that the House fails to approve any withdrawal agreement four days before the end of the Article 50 period”.

H) EEA/EFTA without a customs union

Proposed by former minister George Eustice and a clutch of Tory colleagues, this plan involves remaining within the EEA and rejoining EFTA, but remaining outside a customs union with the EU.

I) Consent of devolved institutions

Proposed by SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford and his colleagues, this requires an agreement that the UK will not leave without a deal, and that no action for leaving the EU will be taken without a consent motion passed in both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

J) Customs union (II)

Proposed by Ken Clarke, Hilary Benn and others, this requires a commitment to negotiate a “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU” in any Brexit deal.

K) Labour plan

Proposed by Jeremy Corbyn and colleagues, this backs Labour’s plan for a close economic relationship with the EU, including a comprehensive customs union with a UK say on future trade deals; close alignment with the single market; matching new EU rights and protections; participation in EU agencies and funding programmes; and agreement on future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant.

L) Revoke Article 50 (II)

Proposed by the SNP’s Joanna Cherry with backing from Conservative MP Dominic Grieve, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable and all 11 members of The Independent Group, this states that, if the Government’s deal is not passed, it would have to stage a vote on a no-deal Brexit two sitting days before the scheduled date of departure and that if MPs refuse to authorise No Deal, the Prime Minister would be required to halt Brexit by revoking Article 50.

M) Confirmatory public vote (a.k.a. second referendum)

Drawn up by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson but with ex-Foreign Secretary Dame Margaret Beckett as lead signatory, this requires a public vote to confirm any Brexit deal passed by Parliament before its ratification.

N) Malthouse compromise Plan A

Proposed by former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan with cross-party support from the DUP’s Nigel Dodds and Labour’s Kate Hoey, this calls for Theresa May’s deal to be implemented with the controversial “backstop” for the Irish border replaced by alternative arrangements.

O) Contingent preferential arrangements

Proposed by Marcus Fysh, Steve Baker and a clutch of ERG-supporting Tory MPs, this calls for the Government to seek to agree preferential trade arrangements with the EU, in case the UK is unable to implement a withdrawal agreement with the bloc.

P) Contingent reciprocal arrangements

Also proposed by Marcus Fysh and ERG colleagues, this calls for the Government to “at least reciprocate the arrangements put in place by the EU and or its Member states to manage the period following the UK’s departure from the EU”, in case the UK is unable to implement a withdrawal agreement.

Note that the Government has not deigned to give legitimacy to the exercise by proposing a motion of its own (that presumably would have backed the deal negotiated by the Government that has already been rejected twice).   

The debate will then conclude at 7pm, at which point the House will be suspended for half an hour to allow for voting via paper ballots (although it will not be a secret ballot, i.e. MPs will have named ballot papers and Hansard will record how they voted). They will be able to vote in favour or against as many or as few of the motions as they wish (of those that have been selected by the Speaker). After the voting, the Commons will return to the not insignificant business of a 90-minute debate (followed by a vote) on the Statutory Instrument to formally change the Exit Day in UK domestic law – a change which has already been made in European law (to which, lest we forget, UK law is subservient) following the meeting of the European Council.

Once the votes are counted, the Speaker will then announce the results of the indicative votes – which are of course in no way binding on the Government, but merely a registration of opinions on a large number of options. But under the terms of the business motion that will set the parameters for today’s proceedings, Letwin and friends will commandeer next Monday – April Fool’s Day – for a follow-up debate and votes.