EXPLAINED: All the Brexit options MPs could vote on as they seize control of the process

Posted On: 
26th March 2019

MPs on Monday night voted to give Parliament the chance to hold a host of so-called "indicative votes" on a whole host of Brexit outcomes. From a no-deal to a second referendum, via Canada and Norway-style pacts, PoliticsHome takes a look at all the options they are now likely to consider.

A no-deal Brexit

Despite MPs making their objections to a no-deal Brexit known several times now - with three ministers quitting on Monday night in protest - it remains the default option if Parliament does not either get behind a  deal or plot a new way forward.

The European Union has said it will give Britain until May 22 to back a deal or leave without one - but only if MPs back Theresa May's agreement.

If MPs reject it for a third time, the UK could still leave on April 12 without a deal. The European Commission on Monday said it was "increasingly likely" that Britain would end up in a no-deal scenario next month.

Revoking Article 50

This option - effectively withdrawing Britain's Brexit notice and cancelling the process - has been talked up in recent days after a record-breaking petition garnered millions of signatures.

Foreign Office minister Mark Field has said he would be "happy" to back revoking Article 50 if MPs were given a free vote - although he acknowledged it was "probably a minority view" in Parliament. Another minister told the The Times on Tuesday: "It’s apocalyptic. I am now in favour of revocation."

Article 50 revocation would require the consent of the European Union, although in practice it is unlikely that Brussels would want to stop Britain calling the whole thing off. How that would go down with the millions of people who voted to leave the EU in 2016 is another matter.

A deal with a customs union

Labour has long demanded that the Government backs a permanent customs union with the European Union, arguing that this would help solve the Northern Ireland border question that has plagued Theresa May's deal and reduce the economic impact of leaving the EU.

But quitting the customs union has always been one of the Prime Minister's Brexit "red lines", with Eurosceptics arguing that ongoing membership of the EU's common tariff pact would stop Britain striking its own independent trade policy.

Theresa May has pointed to previous Commons defeats for Labour's alternative plan, although a backbench bid for a customs union in 2018 saw the Government win by just six votes.

Some Brexiteers have made it clear that they would rather take a risk on a general election than allow MPs to back something that rides roughshod over the Conservatives' 2017 manifesto pledge to leave the arrangement. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said this weekend: "Ultimately, at its logical conclusion, the risk of a general election increases because you potentially have a situation where parliament is instructing the executive to do something that is counter to what it was elected to do."

A second referendum

Campaigners for a second referendum received a boost this weekend when Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson told a major London rally that he would be prepared to back Theresa May's deal in exchange for a fresh public vote on it. However, Labour is known to be deeply divided on a second referendum, with some frontbenchers in Leave-supporting seats threatening to resign if Jeremy Corbyn orders them to vote for a backbench bid to secure a referendum on any deal passed by the Commons.

While the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens, Plaid Cymru and the new Independent Group are all behind a so-called People's Vote, there has been little public support for such a move on the Conservative benches, and the official campaign for a second vote has so far stopped short of tabling a Commons bid to secure one. Chancellor Philip Hammond this weekend made clear that he believes a second Brexit referendum is a  “coherent position” that "deserves to be considered" in the indicative votes exercise.

A Norway-style 'softer' Brexit

Advocates of the so-called Common Market 2.0 plan - sometimes dubbed 'Norway Plus' - believe that there may be a Commons majority for their softer form of Brexit. The proposal would see Britain join the European Free Trade Association alongside Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, before shifting in to the European Economic Area (EEA), a common market with the European Union.

The plan would see MPs back Theresa May's withdrawal agreement but renegotiate the political declaration, the part of her deal that sets out Britain's future relationship with the bloc.

Those pushing the proposal - including Conservative Nick Boles and Labour's Lucy Powell - argue that it could win a Parliamentary majority and represents the only alternative the EU would be willing to accept. They say it takes Britain back to the kind of relationship many voters in 2016 wanted - a return to the original vision of an EU-wide 'Common Market' without being involved in the bloc's political project.

But critics of the proposal argue that it would leave the UK as a "rule-taker", forced to accept single market regulations and directives with no substantive say in how they are drawn up. It would also require the UK to accept the free movement of people - although backers of the plan argue that an emergency power could control immigration in the event of strain on public services.

Although Jeremy Corbyn has held talks with the Common Market 2.0 group, the plan does not have Labour backing, while there are splits between those pushing for the Norway Brexit proposal and those who would rather see a second referendum.

A Brexiteer-backed Canada-style free trade agreement

Brexiteers have long argued that the UK could try and go for a free-trade pact with the EU based around the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), signed in 2016. The arrangement removes the vast majority of customs duties on European exports to Canada and Canadian exports to the EU, while the country is not subject to any EU law or institutions.

The plan has been backed by the libertarian think-tank the Institute for Economic Affairs as well as leading Eurosceptics such as Jacob Rees-Mogg - while Boris Johnson went one further and called for 'super-Canada'.

But critics point out that the Canada pact took seven years to agree - and say it does not take into account the unique circumstances of the Northern Ireland border, with the plan likely to require some new form of checks at the Irish frontier. Mr Johnson has argued that any "extra procedures" could be carried out away from the border.

However, it is hard to see how a Commons majority could be found for a plan which does not have the public backing of any of the opposition parties or a commanding chunk of the Conservative party.

Theresa May's deal

The Prime Minister could still bring her twice-defeated deal back for a third meaningful vote.

But Downing Street has said the deal will not be brought back before the Commons unless Mrs May believes she can win it, and she suffered a fresh blow this week when the DUP's leader Arlene Foster made clear that her party's position on the agreement "remains unchanged".

The Prime Minister will need to either peel off Labour MPs to vote for her plan, or overturn the objections of both the DUP and determined Brexiteers on her own benches to save the ill-fated EU pact - and there is so far little sign that that will happen. But she has also made clear that the Government could simply choose to ignore the entire indicative votes exercise on alternative plans - a stance that's seen her accused of turning Parliament into a "puppet show".