Last night’s indicative votes show how the impasse in the Commons could be broken

The House of Commons voted last night on eight proposals that were intended to indicate what the House might be prepared to support to break the deadlock on the departure of the UK from the European Union. None of the proposals were approved by MPs. The narrowest defeat was for Kenneth Clarke’s proposals for the UK to leave the EU and remain a member of the customs union which lost by eight votes, whilst Marcus Fysh’s proposals for “Contingent preferential arrangements” which lost by 283. Proposals for a no-deal Brexit were also defeated by a substantial margin. The votes for each proposal are summarised in the chart at the top of the page.

However, the votes did provide valuable insight as to what the House might be prepared to support. Aside from Margaret Beckett’s proposal to give the public a confirmatory vote on the Brexit proposals, the three proposals that garnered the most support were Clarke’s proposals on customs union participation, Jeremy Corbyn’s proposals for a permanent customs union and single market alignment, and Nick Boles’ so-called “Common Market 2.0” proposals, which would involve EFTA membership and a customs union with the EU. What all three proposals have in common is some sort of customs union with the EU.

The SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the Independent Group (who have 60 MPs between them) abstained or voted against any proposal which could not lead to the UK remaining in the EU, meaning that they only voted for the “revoke if no deal” and “public vote” proposals. Whilst there was no majority for either the second referendum or customs union proposals, there well may be a well majority for a compromise between a second referendum and the softer Brexit proposals.

The table below shows how many MPs supported either the public vote proposal or the various customs union proposals. Currently, 320 votes are required for a majority.

Public Vote or Customs Union (Kenneth Clarke), or both 340
Public Vote or Common Market 2.0 (Nick Boles), or both 329
Public Vote or Jeremy Corbyn’s proposals, or both 313

Whilst a combination of the public vote supporters and the Corbyn proposals wouldn’t be enough for a majority, the MPs who backed either a public vote or Clarke’s proposals, or a public vote and Boles’ Customs Union 2.0 proposals, would be enough for a majority in the House if they were to table a compromise motion.

Whilst a compromise between a public vote and Clarke’s proposals might have a higher combined support, the Common Market 2.0 proposals are likely to be more acceptable to the Remain supporting MPs than Clarke’s proposals which would not necessarily involve the UK continuing to participate in the European single market.

A compromise motion, where there was a choice in a public vote between remaining in the European Union and Nick Boles’ Common Market 2.0 proposals could therefore attract the potential support of 329 MPs, which would mean that 9 MPs could withdraw their support and it would still be enough to command a majority in the Commons.

Even were such a proposal to gain a majority in the House, it is very difficult for a reluctant executive branch to be coerced by the legislative into doing something that they don’t want to do. If such a proposal was to pass, and Theresa May’s government didn’t enact the wish of the Commons, it is difficult to see how such a constitutional crisis could be resolved.

Nevertheless, the indicative votes appear to have done their job and shown where support in the House might lie. If supporters of a second referendum and supporters of a softer Brexit are to join forces in search of a compromise, they ought to do so quickly.

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