"Indicative Vote" A Spectacular Failure: MPs Reject Every Brexit Alternative

Update (5:40 pm ET): Nearly three hours after the voting began, the results of the indicative vote are finally in, and it looks like MPs rejected every single alternative to May's Brexit deal that was included on the ballot.

That's right, not a single option received enough votes to pass by a simple majority. So much for the hopes expressed by Oliver Letwin, the mastermind behind the vote, who had said it would at least help narrow the options down...but that didn't stop him from proposing that Parliament should vote again on Monday to "reconsider these matters."

...Twitter wits couldn't help but crack a few well deserved jokes.

For what it's worth, a proposal to keep the UK in the customs union and a plan for a second "confirmatory" referendum on May's deal came the closest.

Here's the full breakdown.

Here's a more complete breakdown:

The fact that MPs have no idea what they want has never been more clear. We wonder if this will make May's "back me then sack me" offer any more attractive to intransigent Brexiteers, and, possibly the opposition?

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Earlier, the speaker announced the results of the "statutory instrument" vote. And as was expected, Brexit is officially *not* happening on March 29.

Despite rumors of last-minute opposition, the measure officially enshrining the Brexit delay in British law has passed. The UK will now officially leave the EU on April 12, with the possibility of another two week extension if May's deal passes.

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Update (4:50 pm ET): Apparently, attempts by some leading Brexiteers to convince the DUP to abstain from a third vote on May's withdrawal agreement have been unsuccessful.

In a Thursday evening statement, the DUP leaders said the party's 10 MPs will vote against the deal, meaning that a meaningful vote would almost certainly fail if the government decides to go through with it on Friday.

The expectation is that May will now lobby the EU for a lengthy Article 50 extension.

The pound has erased most of the day's gains on the news.

DUP

Apparently, "back me then sack me" just wasn't enough. The Irish Unionists are insisting that material changes be made to the agreement, which the EU has repeatedly refused to allow.

Can May pass the deal without the DUP's support. Well, it's possible, but not very likely. Here's what would need to happen, per BBG's Alex  Morales.

The last time May held a meaningful vote on her deal was March 12, when she lost by 149 votes (242 to 391). Seventy-five of those opposing the deal were Conservatives, and 10 were with the DUP. So technically, if May persuaded all 75 Tories to switch sides, she doesn't need the DUP. But there are at least 6 pro-EU Tories who want a second referendum and don't seem likely to be swayed. And there are still hardline Brexiteer holdouts to persuade, even if May does appear to have persuaded some of their leaders. She clearly needs more Labour MPs.

Whatever happens, once it becomes clear that the deal won't pass, talk of an election will likely intensify.

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Update (4:10 pm ET): A few updates related to the Commons debate....

The indicative vote has finished, but it will take a few hours to tally up the ballots. As a reminder, here are the options. MPs were allowed to vote in favor of any plan that they would support.

As a reminder, these are the options...

Brexit

...With the vote finished, MPs have moved on to a more mundane business item that nevertheless could result in another potentially embarrassing defeat for May. MPs must pass a "statutory instrument" - which would legally change the EU exit date from March 29 to April 12 under UK law. However, some Brexiteers have taken issue with May's decision to accept the EU's offer without first running it by the Commons, and are trying to encourage MPs to vote against the instrument. Most observers still expect it to pass, and it's not clear what would happen if it fails (presumably, it would be brought for at least one more vote).

Meanwhile, there have been more grumblings out of the ERG, including reports of an impassioned speech delivered by Steve Baker at the group's Wednesday meeting, that some of the Brexiteers (the self-proclaimed "spartans") will refuse to accept May's "back me then sack me" offer.

Though according to the BBC, at least 25 ERG members have said they will drop their resistance and back the deal.

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Update (2:40pm ET): In a major breakthrough ahead of the vote, the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg and Times’ Sam Coates report that "hard" Brexiteer and Theresa May nemesis Boris Johnson will switch sides and back May’s Brexit deal. The "Promise of new leader to succeed May got him over the line" Coates writes. Johnson's reversal comes just an hour after May vowed she would step down once she "delivered Brexit."

In an amusing back and forth, or rather lack of "forth", Mail on Sunday editor Harry Cole writes that when leaving the ERG meeting Boris Johnson declined to answer whether he has just "strapped a suicide vest around the UK and handed Michael Barnier the trigger."

To be clear, BoJo and the other Brexiteer leaders throwing their support behind the deal is an important step, but it doesn't guarantee that May's plan will pass. There are still other hardline Brexiteers who refuse to bend. They've even given themselves a fun nickname.

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Update (1:30 pm ET): Though she declined to specify a date, May told Tory backbenchers that she will step down after "delivering Brexit,"  meaning that she will not lead the next phase of negotiations with the EU, where the two sides are expected to hash out a new trade agreement.

May said she seeks an “orderly handover” and that “she’s got the message." According to a Tory MP, May told them she would leave earlier than she had intended. Pro-Brexit lawmakers had called on May to set a date for her departure as way of securing support for her Brexit deal, which her office has said she plans to put to another vote this week.

As one reporter noted, the subtext was clear: "Back my deal, and I'll go." And as another note, "Theresa May plays her last card: Banking on her own unpopularity to get her deal through."

“I have heard very clearly the mood of the parliamentary party. I know there is a desire for a new approach -- and new leadership -- in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations – and I won’t stand in the way of that,” she told them. “I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party.”

She then said that if they back her deal she will quit: “I know some people are worried that if you vote for the Withdrawal Agreement, I will take that as a mandate to rush on into phase two without the debate we need to have,” she said. “I won’t -- I hear what you are saying.”

Here is the partial text of her speech delivered moments ago:

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Update (12:30 pm ET): A few new developments...

First, it appears that, instead of whipping for a confirmatory referendum, the Labour leadership has decided to support the option calling for permanent membership in the customs union, which could put Theresa May in a difficult position.

But in bigger news, Brexit Secretary Steven Barclays said the government is preparing to bring May's withdrawal agreement up for a third vote on Friday, despite fears that it might not allow enough time for Brexiteers to whip up votes.

The DUP, which could make or break a vote on Friday now that several leading Brexiteers have tentatively given it their support, will presumably reveal how its 10 MPs plan to vote at a press conference on 2 pm ET. May will address the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers at 1 pm ET (5 pm London Time).

But how will May circumvent Bercow's ruling that she can't bring the withdrawal agreement back for a third vote without substantial changes? Here's one theory.

Let's not forget that two meaningful votes on her deal have already been defeated by "historic" margins. And while tonight's vote is nonbinding, BBG has a flow chart showing where things might lead from here:

May

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Update (11:20 am ET): MPs have approved the business motion allowing backbenchers to take control of the Commons agenda, clearing the way for tonight's 'indicative' vote. Though there had been some reports that the margin of victory was looking tighter than expected, suggesting that the motion could be killed and the vote cancelled at the last minute, it passed by a margin of 331 to 287.

Theresa May has decided not to table her Brexit plan for the vote, meaning it won't be included in the options. She has also opted to allow a free vote, to prevent more ministerial resignations.

Here's a rundown of the motions that were approved as options for the indicative vote:

Meanwhile, Bercow has thrown down the gauntlet for May, warning that he won't allow the PM to bring back her deal for MV3 unless it meets his test of being "substantially different" than what was proposed last time.

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Frustrated MPs tired of Prime Minister Theresa May's ineffectual handling of the Brexit process - which has badly damaged the public's confidence in the government - finally mustered the votes on Monday to seize control (at least temporarily) from No. 10 and force an indicative vote on alternatives to May's withdrawal deal that the prime minister has long opposed. On Wednesday, MPs will finally have an opportunity to tell the government which alternatives they would support.

May

At this point, readers who haven't closely followed every twist in the Brexit trainwreck might find themselves wondering why MPs went to so much trouble to force this vote - 30 Tory rebels risked their seats to support the so-called "Letwin Amendment", and three junior cabinet ministers resigned after defying their master - when neither the government nor the EU will be bound by the results.

To help them understand what this all means, one Deutsche Bank analyst offered what we felt was a particularly apt analogy:

For those of you reading this today who manage people, imagine if your team kept on saying to you that you weren’t doing a very good job and were the worst boss ever (to my team please don’t get any ideas). Then imagine that they got together and first tried to get rid of you but then realised that they couldn’t. Instead, they organised a coup to relieve you of your powers for a day so they could prove they could do a better job.

Well that’s the position the U.K. government finds itself in today as we welcome what will be another extraordinary day in U.K. politics. Backbenchers will take over proceedings for a day with indicative votes on the agenda with the aim being to try to break the impasse in the most important legislative process faced by the country in a couple of generations.

Oliver Letwin, the Tory MP and leader of a cross-party "resistance" who masterminded Wednesday's vote, has said that he doesn't expect a clear alternative to May's deal to emerge on Wednesday. To allow this to happen, the Commons will need to hold a series of votes, with the next vote perhaps coming next week, to whittle down the options until a clear winner emerges. Keep in mind, the UK is set to leave the EU in less than three weeks, and the bloc has insisted that it won't approve another deadline extension unless May's withdrawal deal has been passed.

Anyway, back to Wednesday's lunacy. Commons Speaker John Bercow is expected to determine which alternatives will be on the ballot at around 11 am ET (3 pm London Time, after control of the proceedings has officially transferred to lawmakers. The vote will follow at 3 pm ET (7 pm London Time). Results aren't expected until 4:30 pm ET (8:30 London). Instead of selecting a single option, MPs are expected to indicate which alternatives they would support, and which they wouldn't. Instead of heading to lobbies to vote, as is traditionally done in the Commons, MPs will be given paper ballots to fill out.

Following speculation that May could "whip" (i.e. push Tory MPs to back) for her deal, recent reports said May's government will officially oppose tonight's vote. Labour, on the other hand, will reportedly whip for a second "confirmatory" Brexit referendum where the public would decide on May's deal or no Brexit.

Clearly worried that the vote is the first step toward either a lengthy delay of Brexit, or an all-out cancellation, the leaders of the Tories Brexiteer faction earlier this week indicated that, after months of relentless opposition, that they would set their objections aside and back the prime minister's deal in a third meaningful vote (which is still expected to happen, even after Bercow declared that it couldn't be brought back for another vote under current law). Jacob Rees-Mogg, Iain Duncan Smith and Boris Johnson. Johnson became the latest to hint that he would back the deal last night, when he suggested that it would support it in exchange for May promising to resign.

It's possible that the PM could announce a date for her resignation on Wednesday, or soon after.

However, at least one major obstacle to May's deal remains: The DUP, the group of 10 unionist MPs from Northern Ireland, has hinted that it might support a long-term Article 50 extension over May's deal. Again, it's unclear whether this, or any other alternatives, would be acceptable to Europe. But there are apparently many in the Commons who are ready to take their chances.

Earlier this month, the Commons rejected no deal, and endorsed an extension (which was then granted, albeit in more limited form than what May had requested) in a series of indicative votes after May's deal was defeated for the second time (by yet another historic margin).

But looking ahead to Wednesday's vote, Ransquawk has a rundown of what are widely believed to be the seven options expected to be placed on the ballot.

1. PM MAY’S DEAL: The deal has been rejected twice already by parliament but remains the only deal the EU can quickly ratify and therefore remains an option. If voted on, it will attract support from May loyalists, but DUP and ERG remain opposed.

2. NO DEAL BREXIT: This would lead to the UK leaving the EU on the new revised date of April 12th on WTO terms. HoC have twice voted against this option, albeit by only four votes last time.

3. ELIMINATING A BACKSTOP: This, in theory would mean re-writing the Withdrawal Agreement, something the EU repeatedly dismissed. A variant would be to promote "alternative arrangements" i.e., technology to monitor the flow of good that could replace the backstop. The EU have previously agreed to examine this, although implementation could take years.

4. CANADA-STYLE DEAL: A popular idea with hardcore Brexiteers, this would focus on the future trade deal with the EU rather than the Withdrawal Agreement. In theory, the UK would accept no continuing regulatory alignment with the EU, although is unclear how far the EU is willing to negotiate this. However, this would not solve the impasse regarding the Northern Irish border, nor has there been signs of many Labour are willing to support this.

5. NORWAY-PLUS DEAL: This soft-Brexit alternative would keep the UK in the single market by remaining in the European Economic Area (EEA) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Unlike EFTA, the deal would also keep the UK in the customs union (hence the plus). The deal has been promoted by a group of Tory backbenchers, Labour leader Corbyn has also shown some interest and some believe it would be the most popular option given a free vote. The Sun reported last night that over 100 are ready to back this deal after PM May's deal is killed off.

6. LABOUR DEAL: This would mean the UK remains in a customs union with the EU and remain close to the single market. European Council President Tusk has previously deemed this as “promising”, although the plan was rejected by parliament. The Labour deal is unlikely to attract support of the Conservatives.

7. SECOND REFERENDUM: A replay of the 2016 referendum would be a separate option although nobody in parliament is seriously calling for that. However, a referendum could be attached to one of the options above. When a second referendum was put on PM May’s deal before the HoC this month, only 85 MPs voted for it after labour ordered its MPs to abstain.

Debate over tonight's vote is currently underway in the Commons. So far, the pound has been sliding, but the move has been relatively muted.

Readers can follow along live below:

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