How ‘indicative votes’ are held will be crucial to their success

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Has the House of Commons has finally come to the end of its tether and taken control of the Brexit process? Sort of. It didn’t vote for Margaret Beckett’s anti-‘no deal’ solution last night. But MPs did approve an amendment tabled by Oliver Letwin to the government’s latest neutral Brexit motion, opting to hold ‘indicative votes’. (Catch up on the events and see the full list of rebels here.)

This will allow parliamentarians to vote on a number of Brexit options on Wednesday, tomorrow, in the hope that such a process – promoting cross-party alliances, with an honest and collaborative approach – will help establish which course of action has the most support. Most options will likely concern changes to the political declaration defining our future relationship with the EU.

With the third meaningful vote on Theresa May’s deal definitely not happening today, Westminster’s focus will be on how to conduct the indicative votes. The organisers are determined not to include any ‘unicorns’, i.e. options that require reopening the withdrawal agreement, which the EU has firmly ruled out many times.

Meanwhile, campaigners for another referendum are again making the argument that their idea is a solution rather than an option, and should therefore not be voted on at this point. (Critics will say this is an attempt to hide the fact that there is insufficient support for a ‘people’s vote’ in the Commons. It’s certainly fair to say PVers want to maximise their chances by holding off until the last moment.)

It seems MPs will be expressing their views on various iterations of soft Brexit: May’s deal with customs union; Labour’s deal (customs union, dynamic alignment on rights, etc); the Norway-style Common Market 2.0 (single market membership). But how? Some are pushing for a preferential voting system, while others worry this would be a damaging breach of convention – even more so than MPs taking control of the parliamentary agenda.

The method (and whether MPs are whipped) is important, as the Prime Minister will be hoping that no alternative to her deal gains a majority and MPs are forced back to square one. There are other concerns. As Gareth Snell, who abstained on Letwin, pointed out: what if the votes produce a result that is convenient for neither Labour nor Tories, and no deal is left as the most likely outcome once whipping kicks in?

On LabourList today, we have the first of many regular contributions from our new columnist Sabrina Huck. As a Momentum activist and free movement advocate, she will offer takes from a pro-EU, pro-Corbyn perspective that I believe is shared by a majority of Labour members. (Not all! But a majority.) Her interesting piece on Lexit, the left bloc at the ‘Put it to the People’ march and an emerging trend that can be termed ‘Blue Corbynism’ is well worth a read.

Sienna @siennamarla

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