When a cross party group of MPs managed to seize control of the Commons and win backing for a plan to hold indicative votes on Brexit options, the hope was that this would show what type of Brexit – or no Brexit – there was a majority for in Parliament. In the end, things didn’t work out exactly as planned. MPs voted on eight proposed options – from a permanent customs union to a second referendum – but not one commanded a majority. Instead, the exercise appeared to show that there is currently no majority for any form of Brexit.
The option which won the most votes was a proposal for a permanent customs union with the EU – which was beaten by 272 to 264 votes. Given that Theresa May’s deal won 242 votes at the second meaningful vote, it could be argued that a customs union is the most popular option at present. However, given that a string of Brexiteers have now said they would back May’s deal at a third vote this could well change.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay was quick to herald the results as proof there was no easy solution to the deadlock – pointing to May’s deal as a suitable compromise:
‘The House has today considered a wide variety of options as a way forward. And it demonstrates that there are no easy options here. There is no simple way forward. The deal the Government has negotiated is a compromise, both with the EU and with members across this House.’
The threat of MPs backing a permanent customs union could help May tempt more Eurosceptics to back her deal. However, time is of the essence. Oliver Letwin – the ringleader of the plot for indicative votes – has signalled they plan to hold more votes on Monday to refine the options. One minister who quit government to vote for indicative votes tells me that they always expected the first round to be messy – it’s what follows that should offer a clearer consensus as options get knocked away. Tonight’s results will only have incentivised the government to hold MV3 sooner rather than later.