Britain’s MPs still have no idea what kind of Brexit they want, though it likely won’t involve revoking Article 50

Theres comedy in tragedy.
Theres comedy in tragedy.
Image: Reuter/UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
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UK politicians went back to the parliament floor tonight (April 1) to again place “indicative votes” on four possible strategies for leaving the European Union. Though not legally binding, this vote was designed to move the country out of political gridlock before the clock runs down and the latest leave date, April 12, arrives.

This was the second round of indicative voting on the four proposals put forward by MPs, separate of the three votes on the deal proposed by prime minister Theresa May. As with the previous round of indicative voting, none of the options received a simple majority—though greater consensus than in last week’s votes may provide a roadmap for what’s to come.

MPs were most in favor of a motion requiring any Brexit deal to include, as a minimum, a commitment to negotiate a “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU,” with 273 for the motion and 276 against. (There are 650 members of British Parliament, but not all are required for such a vote.) In the first round, this motion was defeated by six votes.

There was slightly less support for a Norway-style “common market 2.0,” where the UK would become a member of the European Free Trade Association and European Economic Area following its exit. If this particular motion were to pass, it would also require the UK to stay a member of the EU market, and maintain a temporary “comprehensive customs arrangement” with the EU post-Brexit. In that scenario, the UK would have some input on future trade deals within that customs arrangement, rather than the EU holding all the cards, until some wider trade deal ensuring frictionless movement of goods and an open border in Ireland could be arranged. This motion was defeated by 21 votes, with 261 MPs in favor of the motion and 282 against it.

Either of these two options would result in a “soft Brexit,” in which the UK and the EU would maintain a relationship quite similar to their current situation, with close trading ties limiting the UK’s ability to forge deals elsewhere in the world.

The other two options on the table today both allowed for the possibility of cancelling Brexit altogether. One was a call for a second referendum allowing the UK public another vote on any Brexit deal passed in parliament; it failed by 12 votes. The second motion, which would revoke the Brexit-triggering article 50 in the face of no-deal, thereby cancelling Brexit entirely, had the least support of all the options, failing by 101 votes.

Immediately after the vote, Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay pushed MPs to support May’s failed EU-drafted deal. He argued that by voting for it, Britain could avoid both a no-deal Brexit and being forced to participate in the looming European elections planned for next month. But with even less support than for most of the options suggested today, it’s hard to see how the prime minister’s chosen exit strategy can ever squeak over the line.