Brexit multiple choice: Understanding UK parliament’s ‘indicative votes’

Tolga Akmen, AFP | A UK flag flutters near the Houses of Parliament in central London on March 27, 2019.

Britain's splintered parliament holds a flurry of votes on Wednesday seeking a last-minute new Brexit plan in place of Prime Minister Theresa May's deeply unpopular deal.


British lawmakers wrested control of the Brexit process from May's government in order to try to find a majority for an alternative way forward that could break the parliamentary deadlock.

They will hold a series of "indicative votes" on eight options that range from a second referendum to recalling Article 50 or leaving the EU under much closer economic terms.

Below is how the process will work.

The 8 options

Parliament Speaker John Bercow has selected eight Brexit options to be put to a vote, from a list of 16 proposals put forward by lawmakers. They are:

  • No deal

Leave the EU on April 12 without a deal.

  • Common Market 2.0

An enhanced Norway-style deal which would include membership of the EU's single market as well as a customs arrangement with the EU.

  • EFTA and EEA

Remain a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) and reapply to join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

  • Customs union

A Brexit deal which must include, as a minimum, a commitment to negotiate a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs Union with the EU.

  • Labour’s alternative plan

A plan devised by the opposition Labour Party for a close economic relationship with the EU including a comprehensive customs union and close alignment with the Single Market.

  • Revocation to avoid no deal

Revoking Article 50, which triggered the Brexit process, if parliament does not consent to leaving without a deal.

  • Confirmatory public vote

A confirmatory referendum to approve the Brexit deal before it is ratified by parliament

  • Contingent preferential arrangements

A managed "no-deal" process in the event an exit agreement with the EU is not reached.

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How will lawmakers vote?

The options selected by the Speaker will be printed on a green ballot paper and lawmakers will be asked to vote "aye" or "no" to each of them. They will be able to vote for as many of the proposals as they wish.

Conservative lawmaker Oliver Letwin, who led the process to seize control from the government, told parliament on Monday that lawmakers would have to be willing to support more than one option in order to find a majority.

"We will all have to seek compromise. We almost know that if we all vote for our first preference, we will never get to a majority solution," he said. "I do not believe there is a majority in favour of the first preferences of any person in this House."

When will the result be announced?

The debate is due to end at 1900 GMT and lawmakers will then be given 30 minutes to record their votes.

The Speaker said he would announce the results as soon as they were ready but this would not be before parliament has finished debating secondary legislation on changing the date of Brexit in law. That is due to run until 2100 GMT.

The result could show no majority for any option, a majority for several options or even a majority for all options.

Will this be the end of it?

Letwin told parliament he viewed Wednesday's votes as the first stage in a process. Lawmakers will take control of parliamentary business again on Monday, April 1 when they will likely vote on a further narrowed-down list of options.

Does the government have to accept the result?

The votes are not binding on the government.

May said on Monday she could not commit the government to delivering the outcome of any votes held, as parliament might vote for something which was not negotiable with the EU, or which contradicted her party's 2017 election promises.

Letwin said that if parliament succeeded in finding a majority for a way forward, he hoped the government would accept that outcome but if it did not, then lawmakers would bring forward legislation seeking to force it to do so.

Have indicative votes happened before?

Yes. In 2003, lawmakers were given seven different options for proposed reform of parliament's unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords, but no options garnered a majority.

Can May present her deal again?

Lawmakers have twice resoundingly rejected the agreement May concluded with Brussels over 17 months of acrimonious talks, but House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said Wednesday "there's a real possibility" she will try again later this week.

Speaker John Bercow, however, reminded May that he already scuppered her plan to hold a third vote last week because she was effectively bringing back the same rejected text.

"I do expect the government to meet the test of change," Bercow told the chamber. "They should not seek to circumvent my ruling."

Brecow: The government 'should not seek to circumvent my ruling'


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