I began my last blog post on Monday saying that it was unclear how the Prime Minister would sort out the mess she has created by two and a half years of intransigence. A lot has happened in the past four days, but her plan for a way forward still isn’t any clearer with only eight days to the new departure date of 12 April.
On Monday we had further indicative votes, following those last Wednesday. As before, it was an attempt to build consensus in this process and so I voted for all four options,which I thought would move us in the right direction:
Confirmatory public vote: This was moved by my colleague Margaret Beckett and backed by Labour, as well as the People’s Vote campaign. It would have required a confirmatory public vote on any deal but was lost by just twelve votes (292 – 280).
Common Market 2.0: This was moved by the, now former, Conservative MP Nick Boles. It called for membership of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), which provides participation in the single market as part of the European Economic Area (EEA), and adds a customs arrangement. I am not fully convinced by it but, as before, felt it was an option worth exploring. Labour backed it, but it was defeated by 21 votes (282 – 261).
Customs Union: This was Ken Clarke’s motion that would have ensured that any deal would have required a permanent and comprehensive customs union with the EU, as a minimum. Labour has argued this to be an important part of any sensible settlement and backed it. So I was disappointed that the SNP, the ‘Independent Group’ and other MPs who have backed a close economic relationship abstained, leaving it to fall by only three votes (276 – 273).
Revoke Article 50: This was moved by the SNP’s Joanna Cherry. It would have required the Government to revoke Article 50 if there was no deal ratified a day and a half before we were due to leave the EU, to prevent us accidentally crashing out without a deal. (292-191)
Unfortunately, none of the motions got an outright majority, but it should be noted that a confirmatory public vote got the highest ‘Yes’ votes of all the options and that a customs union as a minimum fell by A painfully close margin.
The Cabinet met for a marathon 7-hour session on Tuesday, which ended with the Prime Minister finally making her opposition to ‘no deal’ clear and offering talks with the Leader of the Opposition to break the impasse. As I said in Parliament the next day, she should have been reaching out to build a consensus three years ago, when she became Prime Minister, after the 2017 election when she lost her majority, or after her deal was voted down.
If she had tried to build consensus from the start she could have prevented the damage that has been done to the economy and to our politics by her refusal to compromise and to try to unite the country. But, even at this late stage, Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the move and met the Prime Minister – together with our Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, our Shadow Business Secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey and our Chief Whip, Nick Brown, on Wednesday. They made our position clear and will continue talks.
Meanwhile, I was in the Chamber speaking on behalf of the frontbench in favour of Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin’s bill, the EU (Withdrawal) (No.5) Bill that would require the Prime Minister to come to the House for approval to seek an extension to Article 50, ensuring that MPs have oversight of that process. Read more here. I am pleased that it got a majority in the Commons and await the outcome of the Lords’ debate on it.
The Prime Minister is due to attend a Brexit summit with the EU27 leaders on Wednesday 10 April and so, although it was not included in the Leader of the House’s Business Statement for next week, I expect we will be facing further votes on an extension in coming days.