The backbench plot to snatch control of Brexit hit a wall last night as none of the alternatives to Theresa May’s deal secured a majority – but MPs still showed Britain they favour a softer Brexit or a second referendum – and will never deliver No Deal.
Last night, in an unprecedented move, politicians seized control of the Commons timetable from Theresa May to hold so-called indicative votes.
The poll showed Parliament is close to agreeing on a soft Brexit with a plan for the UK remaining in a customs union with the EU defeated by 272 votes to 264, while a second referendum was rejected by 295 votes to 268.
MPs were handed green ballot papers on which they voted Yes or No to eight options, ranging from No Deal to cancelling Brexit altogether. However, the votes descended into shambles as MPs rejected each and every one of the proposals – although its architect Sir Oliver Letwin always warned there wouldn’t be a winner first time.
Ten Tories – including ministers Sir Alan Duncan, Mark Field and Stephen Hammond – supported an SNP plan to give MPs the chance to revoke Article 50 if a deal has not been agreed two days before Brexit. Some 60 Tory MPs backed the option of remaining in the single market.
These are the results of last night’s indicative votes on Brexit, in order of preference. It shows that while MPs can’t find a consensus they lean heavily towards a softer Brexit or second referendum
Tory MP Oliver Letwin (pictured in the Commons today) began today’s proceedings after his amendment on Monday night tore up the usual Commons agenda to allow last night’s votes
Shadow housing minister Melanie Onn resigned after Jeremy Corbyn ordered his MPs to back a raft of soft Brexit plans, as well as a second referendum.
Some 27 Labour MPs defied the whip to reject a so-called ‘confirmatory vote’ on any Brexit deal. The party had instructed them to support the plan just hours after one of its senior frontbenchers publicly warned that it would be a mistake.
Sir Oliver Letwin, the architect of the Commons move, today insisted the indicative votes were not intended to give a precise answer right away – and will hold another round of votes on Monday.
MPs are due to hold a second round of votes – unless Mrs May can get her deal through first – after none of the eight options debated on Wednesday was able to command a majority. It could be that the eight options are cut down to the most popular.
Sir Oliver told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘At some point or other we either have to get her deal across the line or accept that we have to find some alternative if we want to avoid no deal on the 12th, which I think at the moment is the most likely thing to happen.
‘At the moment we are heading for a situation where, under the law, we leave without a deal on the 12th, which many of us think is not a good solution, and the question is ‘Is Parliament on Monday willing to come to any view in the majority about that way forward that doesn’t involve that result?”
MPs will take control of the Commons order paper again on Monday, so they can narrow down the options if Mrs May’s deal has not been agreed by then – or pass legislation to try and impose their choice on her. Speaking in the Commons after the results, Sir Oliver said: ‘It is of course a great disappointment that the House has not chosen to find a majority for any proposition.
‘However, those of us who put this proposal forward as a way of proceeding predicted that we would not even reach a majority and for that very reason put forward a … motion designed to reconsider these matters on Monday.’
The results of Wednesday’s votes, in order of preference, were:
- Confirmatory public vote (second referendum) – defeated by 295 voted to 268, majority 27.
- Customs union – defeated by 272 votes to 264, majority eight.
- Labour’s alternative plan – defeated by 307 votes to 237, majority 70.
- Revocation to avoid no-deal – defeated by 293 votes to 184, majority 109.
- Common market 2.0: defeated by 283 votes to 188, majority 95.
- No Deal: defeated by 400 votes to 160, majority 240.
- Contingent preferential arrangements – defeated by 422 votes to 139, majority 283.
- Efta and EEA: defeated by 377 votes to 65, majority 312.
Theresa May (pictured returning to Parliament) sensationally promised to quit Downing Street in return for Tory Brexiteer rebels passing her deal as she admitted her time as Prime Minister was almost over
What PM needs to edge to victory… by just 2 votes. There are 235 Tory loyalists, 10 switchers, 30 who with back the deal if May quits, 10 DUP supporters and 24 Labour
The Prime Minister allowed her MPs to vote however they wanted on the choices after she was warned around ten junior ministers would quit if they were whipped against backing a soft Brexit.
The eight Brexit options that MPs couldn’t back:
Revoke Article 50 – 273 to 184 AGAINST
Put forward by SNP’s Joanna Cherry and backed by 33 MPs including Conservative former attorney general Dominic Grieve, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable, Labour’s Ben Bradshaw and all 11 members of The Independent Group.
It demands that if no deal has been agreed on the day before Brexit that MPs will get the chance to cancel the UK’s notice to Brussels it would leave the EU.
Britain is allowed to unilaterally cancel Article 50 and stay a member on its current terms, according to a ruling of the European Court. It would bring an end to the existing negotiations – but would not legally rule them being restarted.
Second referendum – 295 to 268 AGAINST
Tabled by Labour ex-foreign secretary Margaret Beckett to build on proposals from Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson.
It states that MPs will not sanction leaving the EU unless it has been put to the electorate for a ‘confirmatory vote’.
A significant evolution of the plan is it would put any deal agreed by the Government to a public vote and not just Mrs May’s plan.
Customs union – 272 to 264 AGAINST
Tabled by veteran Conservative Europhile Ken Clarke, backed by Labour’s Yvette Cooper, Helen Goodman and chair of the Commons Exiting the EU Committee Hilary Benn and Tory former ministers Sir Oliver Letwin and Sarah Newton.
It demands that ministers negotiate a new ‘permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU’ which would prevent the country being able to strike its own trade deals but make it easier for goods to move between the UK and Europe.
Labour’s plan – 307 to 237 AGAINST
Proposed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
It includes a comprehensive customs union but with a UK say on future trade deals and close alignment with the single market.
The plan also demands matching new EU rights and protections; participation in EU agencies and funding programmes; and agreement on future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant.
No deal – 400 to 160 AGAINST
Proposed by Eurosceptic Tory MP John Baron.
Tabled a motion demanding ‘the UK will leave the EU on 12 April 2019’ without a deal. However, a No Deal Brexit has already been rejected twice by MPs.
It would instruct the Government to abandon efforts to secure its deal and inform the EU it did not want a long extension to Article 50 either, in line with last week’s EU Council. Both sides would then have a fortnight to make final preparations.
Common Market 2.0 283 to 188 AGAINST
Tabled by Conservatives Nick Boles, Robert Halfon and Andrew Percy and Labour’s Stephen Kinnock, Lucy Powell and Diana Johnson.
The motion proposes UK membership of the European Free Trade Association and European Economic Area.
It allows continued participation in the single market and a ‘comprehensive customs arrangement’ with the EU after Brexit. It would be very similar to current membership.
The idea is this would remain in place until the agreement of a wider trade deal which guarantees frictionless movement of goods and an open border in Ireland.
Single Market – 377 to 65 AGAINST
Tory former minister George Eustice – who quit as agriculture minister this month to fight for Brexit – proposes remaining within the EEA and rejoining EFTA, but remaining outside a customs union with the EU.
The motion was also signed by Conservative MPs including former minister Nicky Morgan and head of the Brexit Delivery Group Simon Hart.
The idea would keep the UK in the European Economic Area (EEA), but unlike the Common Market 2.0 plan would not involve a customs arrangement. It is similar to Norway’s deal.
Standstill with the EU – 422 to 139 AGAINST
Backed by senior Brexiteers in the ERG including Steve Baker and Priti Patel, this would tell the Government to seek a tariff-free trading arrangement with the EU>
It would be based on a ‘standstill’ agreement saying all regulations in the UK would continue to match EU ones for up to two years.
She and the Cabinet abstained on the indicative votes, helping her to mask the wide gaping divisions among her senior ministers on the way forward.
Commons Speaker John Bercow selected eight out of the 16 Brexit options tabled by MPs for a vote, turning down proposals to demand a unilateral right to leave the Northern Irish ‘backstop ‘ or to require automatic revocation of Article 50 if No Deal is reached. He also rejected the so-called Malthouse Compromise Plan A – drawn up by backbenchers from Leave and Remain wings of the Tory Party – which would have implemented Mrs May’s deal with the backstop replaced by ‘alternative arrangements’.
Ahead of the votes, Mrs May warned she would not regard the results as binding. But former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke yesterday told BBC Radio 5 Live the Prime Minister ‘would obviously have to be removed’ if she ignored a consensus emerging from the indicative votes process.
Labour ordered its MPs to back a motion, tabled by former foreign secretary Dame Margaret Beckett, requiring any Brexit deal passed during this Parliament to be confirmed in a public referendum before ratification. The party also whipped its MPs to back its own alternative Brexit plan – but four Labour backbenchers voted against it. Three others – including party chairman Ian Lavery – voted for a ‘managed’ No Deal. Mr Corbyn had also encouraged his MPs to back the so-called Common Market 2.0 plan tabled by Mr Clarke – which would keep the country in the single market as well as a customs arrangement – but did not whip them to do so.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mrs May criticised the Labour leader over his support for a customs union and a second referendum. She said: ‘Whatever happened to straight-talking honest politics?’ In a tweet, the Department for Exiting the European Union warned that the Common Market 2.0 plan ‘would not respect the referendum result’.
‘[It] would not end free movement of people, would not let us set our own trade policy, would not stop us sending money to the EU, [and] would make us a rule taker,’ the message added.
A number of Tory MPs refused to take part in the votes. Aldershot MP Leo Docherty said none of the options presented a ‘coherent path towards Brexit’. He tweeted: ‘This is an exercise in Parliamentary navel-gazing and I will be abstaining.’ Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom earlier warned that MPs had turned the normal ‘precedent on its head’ by taking control of the order paper, which sets out the parliamentary timetable for the day. She said: ‘Those who are not in government are deciding the business, and there are inevitable ramifications to that.’
But former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell said Sir Oliver had played ‘an absolute blinder’ by making clear to Brexiteers the consequences of continuing to oppose the PM’s deal. He said: ‘I think Sir Oliver Letwin has laid out for all my friends and colleagues in the ERG the instruments of torture, of what awaits them if they do not support Mrs May’s deal the next time it comes to a vote.’
Allies of PM said she had reluctantly made the decision to quit over the past fortnight, following conversations with close political friends and her husband Philip.
Mr May stood by her side as she made a ‘moving’ speech to tearful staff in No 10 after making her announcement to MPs last night. Allies said the decision reflected her determination to push through a plan she believes is ‘firmly in the national interest’.
One said: ‘She had other options but she has put her country first. It is typically selfless’ – but it is unclear if it can save her deal.
The DUP’s support is seen as critical to unlocking the backing of dozens of Eurosceptic MPs.
Downing Street was last night locked in frantic talks with the party in the hope of persuading its ten MPs to support the deal.
‘They are tough negotiators,’ one source said. ‘It’s not over yet.’
But one Cabinet minister said: ‘If they don’t move, then we don’t have the votes.’
MPs last night rejected every Brexit option in a series of ‘indicative votes’, with a customs union, second referendum, Norway-style option and No Deal all failing to get a majority.
That, and the PM’s ‘Back me, then sack me’ plea, sets the scene for a third attempt to pass her Brexit plan tomorrow – the day Britain was due to leave the EU.
Mrs May becomes the fourth consecutive Tory prime minister to have their career wrecked by the issue of Europe.
Pressure on her to quit had been building in recent weeks, with Eurosceptic MPs unhappy with her deal, warning that they wanted a new leader to take forward the next stage of Brexit negotiations.
A senior Tory said party whips believed up to 30 Eurosceptic MPs would back Mrs May’s deal only if she agreed to go.
Addressing the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs last night, an emotional Mrs May acknowledged that Brexit turmoil had been ‘a testing time for our country and our party’. She called on MPs to do their ‘historic duty’ and back her plan.
But she acknowledged concerns about her own leadership, saying: ‘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.’
Her dramatic move fired the starting gun on what promises to be a bruising Tory leadership contest this summer that will choose the next prime minister.
Tory sources said that if Mrs May’s plan passes, a leadership contest will start shortly after May 22, when the UK finally leaves the EU. However, No 10 refused to say whether she would still depart on the same timetable if her plan is blocked or defeated.
One source said it would be ‘a different scenario’, adding: ‘It’s hard to see how we could have time for a leadership contest in quite the same way if we’re still in the middle of trying to take us out.’
Who could replace Theresa May?
Here are the top runners and riders to replace the Prime Minister, their odds with Ladbrokes and how they voted in the 2016 referendum:
Michael Gove 4/1
Michael Gove’s odds have shortened in recent days
- Leading Vote Leave figure in 2016 who now backs PM’s Brexit deal
- Former journalist, 51, who stood for leadership in 2016
- Was sacked as education minister by Theresa May
- Later returned as Environment Minister
A Brexiteer with a machiavellian reputation after the 2016 leadership campaign in which he first supported Boris Johnson for the leadership and then stood against him, to their mutual disadvantage.
The former education secretary – sacked by Mrs May – was rehabilitated to become a right-on environment secretary – complete with reusable coffee cups and a strong line on food standards after Brexit.
Despite being a former lead figure in the Vote Leave campaign alongside Mr Johnson the former journalist and MP for Surrey Heath has swung behind Mrs May’s Brexit deal.
At the weekend he denied being involved in a coup seeking to make him a caretaker PM.
Seen as one of the Cabinet’s strongest political thinkers and having stood once it is unthinkable that he would not stand again.
Boris Johnson 4/1
Boris Johnson is very popular with the Tory grassroots
- Former foreign secretary and mayor of London
- Voted leave and has become an increasingly hardline Brexiteer
- As likely to make headlines over his private life
- Has recently lost a lot of weight and smartened up his appearance
The former foreign secretary who quit last July and has been tacitly campaigning for the leadership ever since returning to the backbenches with a regular stream of attacks on Mrs may and her Brexit strategy.
Never far from the limelight it is his private life that has seen him most in the news recently after splitting from his wife Marina and embarking on a relationship with a former Conservative communications staffer 20 years his junior.
A hawkish Brexiteer hugely popular with the party faithful, in recently weeks he has further boosted his frontrunner credentials with what might be deemed a ‘prime ministerial’ makeover.
He has lost weight and taming his unruly mop of blonde hair into something approaching the haircut of a serious senior statesman.
Jeremy Hunt 8/1
Jeremy Hunt backed Remain in 2016 but has undergone a conversion to the Brexit cause
- The Foreign Secretary voted Remain
- But has become an increasingly vocal Brexiteer
- Backs May’s deal
- Has approached ministers about running as a unity candidate
The Foreign Secretary who has undergone a Damascene conversion to the Brexit cause in with a series of hardline warnings to the EU.
The 52-year-old South West Surrey MP is the most senior Cabinet minister in contention.
He has reportedly been selling himself to colleagues as a unity candidate who can bring together the fractious Tory factions into something approaching a cohesive party.
A long-serving health secretary, he replaced Mr Johnson as the UK’s top diplomat and has won some plaudits over issues like the imprisonment of British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran.
But critics point to tub-thumpingly comparing the EU to the USSR at the party conference last year – which was very badly received in Brussels – and a gaffe in which he referred to his Chinese wife as ‘Japanese’ as a reception in China.
Dominic Raab 10/1
The former Brexit Secretary is now a Theresa May critic
- Shortlived Brexit secretary last year, replacing David Davis in the hot seat
- But walked in November over terms agreed by PM
- Voted for Brexit in 2016
Mr Raab, 45, is another Vote Leave member who became Brexit secretary after David Davis quit alongside Mr Johnson last July over the Chequers plan.
But he lasted just a matter of months before he too jumped ship, saying he could not accept the terms of the deal done by the Prime Minister.
Like Mr Johnson and Mr Davis he has become an increasingly hardline Brexiteer, sharing a platform with the DUP’s Arlene Foster and suggesting we should not be afraid of a no-deal Brexit.
The Esher and Walton MP’s decision to quit in November, boosted his popularity with party members but he lacks the wider popular appeal of Mr Johnson.
And like Mr Johnson he might benefit from having quit the Cabinet at an earlier stage and dissociating himself with the dying days of the May administration.
Sajid Javid 12/1
Sajid Javid has kept a relatively low profile throughout the Brexit chaos
- The most senior cabinet contender
- Voted Remain but wants to see Brexit delivered
- Faced criticism as Home Secretary
- But has taken a hard line on Shamima Begum case
The Home Secretary, a Remainer who wants to see Brexit delivered, was the leading candidate from inside the Cabinet to replace Mrs May.
After replacing Amber Rudd last year he consciously put clear ground between himself and the Prime Minister on issues like caps on skilled migrants after Brexit.
But his credentials have taken a hit in recent weeks. He finds himself facing ongoing criticism of his handling of the knife crime crisis affecting UK cities, which sparked a cabinet row over funding for police.
He also lost face over his handling of the influx of migrants crossing the English Channel in January, being seen to move slowly in realising the scale of the problem.
But more recently the 49-year-old Bromsgove MP has made a serious of hardline decision designed to go down well with Tory voters.
Most notably they have included moving to deprive London teenager turned Jihadi bride Shamima Begum, 19, of her British citizenship.