View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
1 April 2019updated 25 Jun 2021 7:27am

Parliament is no closer to finding a way out of the Brexit mess

By Stephen Bush

The song changes, but the result remains the same: no majority for anything in the House of Commons.

Parliament’s second set of indicative votes returned a broadly identical set of results to the first set: keeping the United Kingdom in a customs union came the closest to passing, with 273 votes in favour to 276 against, while the option of a second referendum once again attracted the most support, with 280 votes in favour, but was also more strongly opposed than any of the other Brexit end states, with 292 voting against. (282 MPs opposed plans to keep the United Kingdom in the single market and customs union after Brexit, with 261 voting in favour.)

One of the things that has been somewhat lost in the discussion of these indicative votes and what they mean is that the number that really matters is 322 – the number of votes necessary to have a majority of one in the House of Commons. But the bar for a majority is lower in indicative votes, when Theresa May has taken the decision to allow the Cabinet to abstain in order to avoid further government resignations, and where further numbers of MPs opt to abstain voluntarily.

Yet any Brexit end state needs to be able to command not just a one-off majority in an indicative vote, but an enduring one to pass the necessary legislation and to command enough support among the governing party that it can actually be negotiated by the executive.

Crucially, even an optimistic account of the number of Cabinet ministers willing to vote for any of the options voted on tonight would return just 14 votes, of the 27 in the Cabinet, at an absolute maximum. That means that, take together, the combined effect of every Cabinet minister voting would be to increase the number of votes needed from elsewhere by 14. (That’s assuming that the Cabinet would be allowed to vote freely, a planet-sized “if”.)

None of these Brexit options are close to passing, let alone passing by the required scale to overcome resistance among government ministers. Nor do any of them look likely to pass. For any of the soft Brexit outcomes to pass, they would require the support of at least some of the following groups: the anti-Brexit Independent Group MPs who refuse to vote for any flavour of Brexit, the minority of Labour MPs who are so strongly committed to a second vote they have refused to vote for and in some cases have voted against a soft Brexit, the majority of Liberal Democrat MPs who are following party policy to do the same, or the Conservative Party, which could not muster more than 37 votes in support of any of the options put before the House tonight.

This parliament cannot provide a majority for a flavour of Brexit that finds favour with the governing party. It doesn’t seem able to cohere behind any other flavour of Brexit either. Something has to shift – but what?

Content from our partners
Unlocking the potential of a national asset, St Pancras International
Time for Labour to turn the tide on children’s health
How can we deliver better rail journeys for customers?

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU