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If May can't win her Brexit vote, what other options are there?

Nov 29 2018 14:38
Kitty Donaldson and Robert Hutton, Bloomberg
Pro-European Union demonstrators gather outside th

Pro-European Union demonstrators gather outside the gates of Downing Street waving flags and holding placards, London on November 14, 2018. (Photo by Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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Almost everyone agrees that Theresa May’s Brexit deal won’t get through Parliament when it comes to a crucial vote. But can anything else?

As the December 11 vote approaches, different cross-party groups of politicians are huddling together trying to craft amendments that would re-write the motion to deliver a different kind of Brexit plan, or add new conditions to May’s own deal.

Dozens of these amendments and rival proposals are likely to be put forward - on the day of the vote or afterwards - and it will be up to House of Commons Speaker John Bercow to pick which ones get voted on.

Here are the main options that are being talked about as replacements for May’s plan:

No Deal

There have been attempts to re-brand a “no-deal” departure as a “World Trade Deal’’ or even “Clean Global Brexit.’’ In essence, supporters of leaving the European Union without an overarching agreement want to maintain a minimal level of cooperation with the bloc to do things like keep planes flying. Then, they hope to negotiate a better free trade agreement from outside the EU, similar to the one Canada has.

There definitely isn’t a majority for a no-deal Brexit in Parliament, but it’s also the default option if May’s plan is voted down.

“The government is being irresponsible if they are not now in full execution of no deal plans,’’ said Marcus Fysh, a Tory who supports this route. “They should be resetting the negotiation to seek a relationship of regular free trade between partners in separate jurisdictions.’’

Second Referendum

For those who think Brexit is a terrible idea that should simply be abandoned, a re-run of the 2016 plebiscite is the democratic way to deliver their goal. There are discussions in Parliament about an amendment to May’s motion that would make agreement to the deal subject to another national vote.

The problem is that this isn’t yet the policy of the opposition Labour Party, and as long as that remains the case, there’s no majority in Parliament for a second referendum. However, Labour has not ruled out backing such a move, and if May’s deal is voted down, the party could consider asking the British public to think again.

If Labour does get on board with calls for a “ People’s Vote,” the party will find support from rebel Conservatives, Scottish Nationalists, and Liberal Democrats.

“There is absolute certainty there will be no hiding from a people’s vote amendment,’’ Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said. “It will be tabled when it’s at its most effective with a view to forcing the government to accept it is the only way out of this mess.’’

Norway (For Now?)

The compromise for Conservatives who want to honor the 2016 referendum but don’t like the look of May’s deal is to join the European Free Trade Association, and keep Britain inside the EU’s single market. This idea - also known as "Norway-plus" - could be a temporary move until a better, permanent answer can be found.

The chief advocates of such a plan are former Tory minister Nick Boles and Labour lawmaker Stephen Kinnock. It’s not clear the EU or EFTA would agree to this. Boles and Kinnock see their idea as a potential lifeboat option, that they could formally propose after May’s deal is voted down and other choices have failed to win support.

“The Norway-plus option delivers on the narrow result of the referendum but removes us from the political institutions of the EU whilst keeping us in a close and frictionless economic relationship’’ said Kinnock in an interview.

“It’s also the only option that deals with the Irish border issue, that takes us out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and meets Labour’s six tests. Moreover it seems highly likely that it commands a parliamentary majority.’’

Customs Union

Instead of the hybrid option that May is offering, the Labour Party advocates a full customs union with the EU. An amendment calling for this probably has the best chance of succeeding, though pro-EU Tories will be less likely to back it if it’s dressed as a Labour move. The question will be whether a cross-party version is put forward instead.

Have-Your-Cake-and-Eat-It Brexit

There are also likely to be amendments calling for May to simply get a better deal, one that both secures full access to the EU’s markets while not paying any money and allowing the UK to negotiate free trade deals around the world.

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