Update on Brexit Votes: Commons Votes to Prevent "No Deal"

Another rather fraught day in the Commons yesterday.

In a series of votes:

Indicative Votes were Defeated by 310 votes to 310 votes (see below) [I opposed]

The Commons defeated a motion in the name of Hilary Benn which had the support of the Opposition and which would have given control of the Business of the Commons next Monday to a group of backbenchers (with Opposition support).

The purpose of seizing control was to have another day of “Indicative Votes”.

I opposed the proposal.  The reasons why I did so were:

  1. We have already had two days of “Indicative Votes” during the course of which no consensus emerged, no proposal secured a majority (neither a majority of votes cast, nor a majority of MPs) and no proposal secured more votes than the Withdrawal Agreement which the United  Kingdom has already negotiated with the European Union and which the  Prime Minister has put to the Commons.  Parliamentary time may, I hope, be required to progress a deal next week which has a prospect of helping this come to a conclusion. Having the time ready for that eventuality I feel is more sensible than repeating a backbench-run process that has twice been inconclusive. 
  2. Throughout the Brexit process Parliament has shown an unfortunate propensity to believe it is negotiating with itself/the Government rather than recognising that this is a United Kingdom negotiation with the 27 remaining member states of the EU via the European Commission.  This means that there is a real risk that any “solution” on which the Commons can agree will be in practice undeliverable.  This would be extraordinary unhelpful with only a very short period to go to secure our departure by 22nd May.  The Government’s Withdrawal Agreement, negotiated over two years, is negotiated, ready and capable of being passed.
  3. Lastly, part of the problem with this process is it is not simply a matter of selecting a “deal” that is the least disliked by the House of Commons and capable of being agreed with the EU.  This deal will then need to be put into law via legislation.  Not only do we need to do so in practice, we will also need to show the European Union that we can secure a “sustainable majority” for this process.

Notwithstanding the fact that the current composition of the Commons means there is considerable  uncertainty  as to whether an Indicative Vote  process of any sort will deliver a result and a sustainable majority, the  Prime Minister has committed that the Government will bring forward an Indicative Vote process if no other route can be found to secure a Commons majority.   

Some MPs who had previously supported “Indicative Votes” did not support Mr Benn’s proposal on this occasion – recognising both the reality of the current circumstance and the Prime Minister’s commitment.

In the division on this proposal the Commons produced, for the first time in 25 years, a tie (on 310 votes).  In these particular circumstances precedent requires the  Speaker to cast his vote against an “innovative and significant change” that had not received a clear majority of the votes cast.

The proposal was therefore lost.

Bill to try and prevent a No Deal/WTO Exit: passed by 313 votes to 312 [I opposed]

The Commons then proceeded to debate and vote on every Commons stage of a Bill to prevent, the UK requesting, an exit from the European Union on WTO terms. (Though it should be noted that, Parliament having not accepted the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement last week, the EU is not bound to agree to any extension of Article 50 and, clearly, no Act of the U.K. Parliament can prevent the EU as a whole (or any individual member state, by exercising its veto) forcing “no deal” if that is their preferred outcome.)

The first stage was won by the proposers, with Opposition support, by 5 votes. A series of votes was held on proposed amendments before the final stage of the Bill (“third reading”).

In a very tense vote the Third Reading was passed by 1 vote (313 to 312).  This much lower margin than has been produced in the past in favour of preventing a WTO/No Deal exit reflects the decision by some MPs to recognise the PM’s commitment to deliver Brexit via a deal and to ask for a short extension to achieve this outcome. 

This Bill implies a much longer delay. 

I opposed the Bill throughout. 

I have consistently opposed taking “No Deal” off the table.

While it is not my preferred outcome (I see the merit in us leaving with an agreed deal) I believe a WTO exit is not an option that should be dismissed.  A No Deal exit would have consequences for the EU as well as the UK.  Having it as a potential outcome in my view helped focus minds to secure an agreed deal that works for both parties.

This Bill, which has real significance, has been pushed through the Commons in almost record time. It now leaves the Commons for the Lords where the Government is in a small minority, and with the expectation of a similarly curtailed timetable. 


Where does this leave Brexit?

On three occasions I have voted for us to leave the European Union, as determined by the 2016 Referendum.  If the Commons had voted as I did we would have left the EU on 29th March; security co-operation would have continued, the rights of UK citizens’ in the EU protected, businesses and farms would have had the certainty of the implementation period and we would now be negotiating our future trading relationship with the EU with a clear route to ongoing customs, tariffs and quota free access to the largest single market in the world.     

I very much regret that instead we are sending the Prime Minister back the European Council on  10th/11th April in  all likelihood bound by law to request an extension: the deal that has been painstakingly negotiated having been rejected by the Commons but the Commons having failed to agree to any alternative. 

In these circumstances the Prime Minister is right to leave no stone unturned in trying to find a route to meeting her commitment to honour the Referendum result.