How MPs will use indicative votes to try and break the Brexit deadlock

MPs will try and find a majority for a Brexit solution tomorrow, by indicating the options they would be willing to support. 

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On Wednesday MPs will take part in a series of indicative votes to try and find a majority for a way forward on Brexit.

The votes, on options such as a customs union, single market membership and a second referendum, will not have any effect other than to indicate what MPs are willing to support.

MPs must propose any options they want to see on the ballot paper by the time the House rises on Tuesday. The speaker, John Bercow, will decide on Wednesday which make the cut. MPs will be able to withdraw any proposals they have made up until 4pm.

At 7pm, the options selected will be put to a vote. Each MP will collect a ballot paper from the division lobbies and mark either yes or no next to each proposal. They are allowed to vote for as many proposals as they want.

Voting will end at 7.30pm and the results will be announced around 9pm. During that intervening period, MPs will debate a statutory instrument that changes the Brexit date from 29 March to 12 April. Full division lists of who voted for what will be made public.

What will happen after the results are out is not clear. Parliament will need to deliberate on its next steps, depending on which plans received the most support. On Monday, MPs will be able to once again take control of the Commons agenda and try and decide on how to proceed. There may be a second round of voting, this time allowing MPs to rank options in order of preference.

We don’t know yet whether the political parties will grant their MPs a free vote, without which the process becomes meaningless. Whatever the outcome is, it is non-binding, although parliament could pass separate legislation instructing the government to follow its will.

For the purposes of this exercise, MPs have set aside the parliamentary convention that they cannot vote on the same motion twice—so it doesn’t matter that they’ve rejected options including no deal and a second referendum before.

The last time indicative votes were used was in 2003, as a barometer of support for seven different proposals to reform the House of Lords. They led to a deadlock as none of the options could command a majority. There is a real danger that Wednesday’s process could meet the same fate.

Eleni Courea writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2018.

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