Theresa May faces three options. Will a customs union be the least painful?

Sienna Rodgers
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Today, MPs will continue the ‘indicative votes’ process, aiming to narrow down the options and find a consensus on Brexit – or at least something that can win a workable majority in the Commons. The motions tabled include ‘no deal’ options, customs union membership, Common Market 2.0 and another referendum. Apparently Labour is putting forward its Brexit plan again, but submitting late so it isn’t on the order paper yet.

Hold on, I hear you ask, aren’t those all the alternatives that were voted on last time? Pretty much, but it’s expected that Speaker Bercow will knock out most by selecting only the options that won the most support in the previous round. What are the chances of each? Common Market 2.0 advocates in the Conservative Party are annoyed with their whips for organising hard against the proposal (see tweets by Nick Boles and Ed Vaizey), while the group’s Labour campaigners are “hopeful” (though not exactly brimming with confidence) that their whips will be more helpful than last week. The real focus at this point is on Ken Clarke’s customs union motion, which only lost by six votes on Wednesday, and Kyle/Wilson’s confirmatory public vote idea.

Labour’s most hardcore ‘people’s vote’ supporters and those most strongly opposed to a soft Brexit will likely vote against a customs union again, while the SNP and Lib Dems will probably abstain again. But if MPs do give Clarke’s motion a majority when they vote at 8pm tonight, the question is whether the government would accept that softening of its deal.

Chief whip Julian Smith has said they should have made it clear, after failing to win the 2017 election outright, that a softer Brexit would be inevitable. And Theresa May told Labour’s Brexit inbetweeners on Friday that she would have accepted their amendment (not selected by Bercow) for MPs to gain control over the shape of the future relationship. Yet shifting towards a customs union would lead to cabinet resignations and seriously damage the Tories: is the Prime Minister really willing to make that move? The only alternatives are no deal and an election, both of which she definitely doesn’t want.

Bored of Brexit? You might be interested in a new project: Labour Party Graphic Designers. The collective, which launches its website today, aims to bring together Labour creatives, promote their work and celebrate the best design from our movement, past and present. I spoke to the founder, Kevin, about his plans in an interview that you can read on LabourList now. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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