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What are the Brexit options in the Valentine’s Day votes?

UK News | Published:

Speaker John Bercow decides which amendments to select for debate.

MPs have the opportunity to express their views on Brexit in a series of Valentine’s Day votes in the House of Commons.

The greatest threat to the Prime Minister’s majority appears to come on her own motion, with Conservative eurosceptics threatening to rebel over fears it could commit Theresa May to ruling out a no-deal Brexit.

A variety of amendments have been tabled, with Commons Speaker John Bercow selecting which go to a debate and vote. Votes on amendments will not be legally binding on the Government.

Here are the proposals on the order paper:

– Government motion

This apparently innocuous motion asks the House to welcome Mrs May’s statement on Tuesday, setting out progress in Brexit talks, note that talks on the Irish backstop are “ongoing” and “reiterate its support” for the approach to negotiations agreed the last time MPs voted, on January 29. The problem for the Government is that MPs voted that day not only to authorise the PM to go back to Brussels and seek a replacement for the controversial Irish backstop, but also for a non-binding motion which would rule out a no-deal outcome. Leave-supporting backbenchers from the European Research Group fear that this would effectively mean signing up to a bar on no-deal.

– Labour amendment

Tabled by Jeremy Corbyn and his frontbench, this would require the Government to either call a vote on its withdrawal plan by February 27 or hand control to Parliament to decide the next steps. Liberal Democrats have tacked on their own amendment to this proposal, calling for a second referendum “as endorsed by the Labour Party conference”.

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Jeremy Corbyn
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is seeking a meaningful vote by February 27 (House of Commons/PA)

A cross-party amendment tabled by the Father of the House, veteran Tory europhile Kenneth Clarke, would allow MPs to vote on their preferred Brexit outcome. Any Brexit option which secures the signatures of 50 or more MPs would be included on a ballot paper, and MPs would be asked to rank them in order of preference. Using an alternative vote system, the least popular option would be excluded and second-preference votes redistributed until one outcome has more than half the votes. There would then be a vote in the Commons on this option. This proposal has the backing of senior Labour backbenchers including Harriet Harman and Jack Dromey as well as Tory Remainers Dominc Grieve and Anna Soubry.

Kenneth Clarke
Father of the House Kenneth Clarke wants MPs to vote on Brexit options (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA)

Tabled by the Scottish National Party’s Angus MacNeil and backed by Mr Clarke, this amendment calls on the Government to revoke the letter informing the European Council of the UK’s intention to leave the EU under Article 50 of the treaties, thus ending the Brexit process and allowing Britain to remain a member of the EU.

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– Publish the papers

This amendment – backed by 60 critics of Brexit from across the House – instructs the Government to publish its most recent official briefings on the implications of a no-deal Brexit for business and trade. Tablers Anna Soubry and Chuka Umunna believe the papers presented to Cabinet paint a chilling picture of the damage which no-deal will do.

– Indicative votes

This calls for a series of votes on February 26 on various Brexit options including the PM’s Withdrawal Agreement, no-deal, renegotiation of the backstop, a Canada-style deal, Norway-style membership of the EEA and a second referendum. If only one option wins a majority, Mrs May would be required to ask for an extension to Article 50 beyond its March 29 deadline to pursue that outcome. If two or more won majorities, the PM would be required to hold a public vote on those options. If none commanded a majority of MPs, Mrs May would have to call a second referendum with the options of her deal or Remain. Tabled by Conservative Remainer Sarah Wollaston, the proposal has backing from opponents of Brexit across the House.

– Plaid Cymru option

Backed by the Welsh nationalist party’s four MPs, this requires the Government to extend Article 50 to provide time for a referendum on Mrs May’s deal or Remain. If no extension is allowed by the EU, the Government would be required to commit itself to a referendum at the end of the transition period in 2021 on whether the UK should rejoin the EU.

– Close alignment

An amendment signed by a small group of Labour and Plaid MPs, and tabled by Swansea West’s Geraint Davies, would require an extension of Article 50 and a commitment from the PM to seek a deal – subject to ratification in a referendum – which leaves the option open for future governments to adopt Labour’s current vision for post-Brexit relations with the EU, including a customs union and close alignment with the single market.

– SNP option

Tabled by the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford, this would require the Government to negotiate an extension of at least three months to the Article 50 process.

Vince Cable
Liberal Democrats are seeking a second referendum (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Liberal Democrats led by Sir Vince Cable are proposing an extension to Article 50 beyond March 29 to allow time for a second referendum with Remain on the ballot paper.

– Three-option referendum

Tabled by Labour backbencher Roger Godsiff, this would require any withdrawal agreement approved by Parliament to be put to the public in a referendum. The ballot paper would have three options – to accept the agreement, leave with no deal or remain in the EU – and voters would be asked to rank them in order of preference under the alternative vote system.

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