Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Brexit ~ Indicative Votes 27 March

Updated 28 March with voting results

The UK is now set to leave the EU either on 12 April or 22 May depending on whether the House of Commons rejects or accepts the Withdrawal Agreement.  The House has already rejected the Withdrawal Agreement on two occasions (15 January and 11 March) but it might return for a third time if the Prime Minister thinks it will now be supported.  It is reported that some MPs will vote for the deal  (£) provided that the Prime Minister sets a timetable for her own departure from office!

Rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement
has the result that the Article 50 extension to 12 April applies but it is open to the UK to indicate a way forward before 12 April 2019, for consideration by the European Council.  That could lead to a further Article 50 extension and it could entail UK participation in EU Parliament elections in May.

On 25 March, the House of Commons resolved to hold "indicative votes" relating to the UK's withdrawal from the EU - previous post 26 March.  The Prime Minister was sceptical about this process which was likely to lead to result in "contradictory outcomes or no outcome at all."   Mrs May also warned that such votes could lead to an outcome that is not negotiable with the EU.  The indicative votes will not be binding on the government.

As a background to the indicative votes it is worth recalling the EU Council Decision of  22 March 2019 which contains a paragraph stating that "the extension also excludes any re-opening of the withdrawal agreement. Any unilateral commitment, statement or other act by the UK should be compatible with the letter and the spirit of the withdrawal agreement."

Commons 27 March:

Today, the Commons will -
  • Decide on a Business of the House Motion which will decide the process to be followed for indicative votes - Note: This was passed 331 votes to 287 - majority 44 - total votes 618
  • Debate and then undertake indicative voting on a number of proposals put forward by MPs.  The Speaker is to choose which of the proposals will be put to a vote.  16 proposals appear on the Order Paper - see below.
: Proposals :

The proposals put forward are :

A.    Constitutional and Accountable Government - to create a new Standing Order to make it more difficult to suspend Standing Order 14 in the future.  My Note: This proposal is nothing to do with Brexit per se.  To adopt the proposal would bring about a marked enhancement of excutive control over the House.  Proposal NOT accepted by the Speaker

B.    No Deal - simply to leave the EU without a deal on 12 April.  (The House has already rejected "no deal" - most recently on 13 March 2019).  Note: "No deal" is the default position on 12 April if the UK rejects the WA and also does not indicate a way forward to the EU.  Accepted by the SpeakerRejected 400 votes to 160.

C.    Unilateral right of exit from the backstop - to leave on 22 May with the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) amended.  (Seems unrealistic given the EU stance that the WA will not be re-negotiated).  Proposal NOT accepted by the Speaker

D.    Common Market 2.0 - to renegotiate the framework for the future relationship - i.e. the Political Declaration (PD).  There is much more scope to secure changes to the PD.  Accepted by the Speaker.   Rejected 283 votes to 188

E.    Respect the Referendum Result - Proposal NOT accepted by the Speaker

F.    Participation in a Customs Union - Proposal NOT accepted by the Speaker

G.   Revocation instead of No Deal - Proposal NOT accepted by the Speaker

H.   EFTA and EEA- Accepted by the Speaker.  Rejected 377 votes to 65

I.    Consent of Devolved Institutions - to require the consent of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly before a withdrawal agreement can be ratified.  Proposal NOT accepted by the Speaker

J.   Customs Union - to have a comprehensive UK-wide Customs Union with the EU - Accepted by the Speaker.   Rejected 272 votes to264

K.  Labour's Alternative Plan - proposed by the Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Brexit Secretary (Sir Keir Starmer QC MP).  Would require changes to the WA and the PD.  Accepted by the Speaker.  Rejected 307 votes to 237

L.  Revocation to avoid No Deal - Accepted by the Speaker.  Rejected 293 votes to 184

M. Confirmatory Public Vote - Accepted by the Speaker.  Rejected 295 votes to 268

N.  Malthouse Compromise Plan A -seeks to replace the backstop arrangement with alternative arrangements based on existing customs procedures and EU Regulations to ensure the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland while protecting the integrity of the EU’s internal market and the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom. Proposal NOT accepted by the Speaker

O.  Contingent Preferential Arrangements - if the UK is unable to implement a WA with the EU then this proposal calls on the government to agree, for a 2 year period, a trade agreement with the EU without tariffs or quantitative restrictions - Accepted by the Speaker.  Rejected 422 votes to 139

P.  Contingent Reciprocal Arrangements - if the UK is unable to implement a WA with the EU then this proposal calls on the government to reciprocate arrangements put in place by the EU so as to mitigate and avoid disruption.  It also calls on the UK government to unilaterally guarantee EU citizens' rights. Proposal NOT accepted by the Speaker

Full details of all the proposals may be seen in the Order Paper

Where a proposal requires amendment of the Withdrawal Agreement it is probably doomed to failure if it gets presented to the EU.  Re-negotiation of the Political Declaration is a more promising route to follow.

It reflects very badly on the conduct of British politics that MPs are holding a debate about options for the future relationship with the EU two years after the Article 50 notification and 2 years 9 months after the referendum.   This could - in a more rational climate - have been settled in the months immediately following the referendum so that the UK government could have given the notification together with concrete proposals for the negotiations.  (It was not until 6 July 2018, following the Chequers meeting, that the government put a "collective position"on the future relationship to the EU - BBC News 6 July).   From the outset, there was a clear need for government to work WITH Parliament and not, as happened, for government to keep Parliament at a distance.

The indicative voting today comes about, in large part, out of sheer frustration with the Prime Minister's approach to Brexit.  The government was given free rein when Parliament permitted triggering of Article 50 without imposing any conditions but that did not exclude a much more co-operative approach than we have seen. 

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