Backbench and opposition MPs took the unprecedented step of seizing control of business in the House of Commons on Wednesday to try and break the Brexit deadline that exists in the country. MPs voted on a range of 8 options including leaving with no deal on 12 April, a second referendum and a permanent Customs Union.
Those options which showed any semblance of a Hard Brexit were resoundingly rejected. Whereas the two most popular options proved to be a second referendum and permanent Customs Union.
Whilst a second referendum and permanent Customs Union proved most popular, neither were able to command a majority amongst MPs. However, it should be expected that any option would command a majority in a first round of “cherrypicking” for a Plan B option should Theresa May’s deal fail for a third (and likely final) time.
A second stage of voting will take place on Monday, though, it has not yet been decided what options will be voted on nor what form this vote will take. Before this, Theresa May’s deal faces potentially a penultimate stand as the withdrawal agreement alone (i.e. excluding all the supplemental document like the Political Declaration on the future relationship that is required by law to be passed as part of the “deal”) will face a litmus test on its own. If the withdrawal agreement gets another support for a majority, this WILL be a game changer as it throws Theresa May a way forward on her deal and shows the EU the exact place where a concession needs to be made. However, this seems incredibly unlikely as things stand. The DUP, who the government relies upon to pass any legislation, remain fiercely opposed to the withdrawal agreement as well as the entire deal. Meanwhile, Labour will be instructing its MPs to vote against it too. It seems unlikely that enough Labour MPs are willing to rebel against their leadership and support the deal.
It’s likely Parliament will face a stark choice on Monday. What is Plan B? It will need to show a majority for something if it is to convince the EU for a further extension to Brexit (currently scheduled for 12 April).
Is a Customs Union the way forward?
Whilst a second referendum had the most support in the House of Commons to date. It still seems like a distinct possibility – its opponents and fiercely opposed. It’s an incredibly polarising option with Parliamentarians decisively for or against it. The numbers are fundamentally unlikely to change in any significant way unless the Government changes policy (which is very unlikely as it stands).
This leaves the Customs Union proposal that, to date, has been the least “rejected” option by MPs. It only lost a majority on Wednesday night by a mere 8 votes. Worlds away from the immense defeat of Theresa May’s deal on two occasions. And what’s more telling is who has supported, abstained or rejected it.
Against: The DUP and Hard Brexiteers (including ERG) are unsurprisingly the key opposition here. The Independent Group are also surprise opposers. Though, they are currently intent of seeking a second referendum and revoking Article 50, so it can be understood to some extent.
For: The majority of Labour and a number of Remain Brexiteers from the Tory Party are very much FOR a Customs Union. It clearly shows there may be enough of a consensus on both sides of the House to push this option to a majority.
Abstainers: This is crucial. The abstainers on this option on Wednesday night including the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and a significant number of Tories including Cabinet Ministers. The majority of this group have abstained to seek their preferred option of remaining in the EU. However, when it comes to the crunch, they would likely back a soft Brexit in the form of a Customs Union. Within the 102 abstainers, it will likely only take HALF of them to come down on the side of ‘For’ in order for this to command a majority. Faced with the prospect of a Hard Brexit on 12 April without recourse of a further extension, it would seem very much within the realms of possibility that at least half of these MPs may decide in favour of a Customs Union to create a solid Plan B – perhaps even Cabinet Ministers such as Amber Rudd and Philip Hammond when faced with the real possibility of a no deal Brexit.
It’s clear that if anything is going to command a majority, a Customs Union is currently the only option with any semblance of a chance as the official Plan B.
However, Westminster continues to be dramatic, unpredictable and chaotic. The indications may be pointing towards a Customs Union but in the last few years, we’ve learnt to never underestimate a surprise in UK politics. Perhaps Theresa May could pull off the seemingly impossible and get her deal through? Only time will tell!