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Brexit: Government offering fresh MPs' vote on second referendum and no-deal outcome

The 'indicative votes' plan emerged moments before Jeremy Corbyn pulled the plug on cross-party talks

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 17 May 2019 11:28 BST
Countdown to Brexit: How many days left until Britain leaves the EU?

Theresa May has offered to give MPs the opportunity to vote on a second referendum and a no-deal Brexit in a series of “indicative votes” in the first week of June, according to a document leaked from cross-party talks.

The document, obtained by The Independent, suggests MPs would be invited to vote on whether to rule out any Final Say referendum. And it makes clear the Prime Minister is ready to give Conservative MPs a free vote on the issue, so long as Jeremy Corbyn does the same for Labour.

It is understood that the plan was drawn up by the Government as it became clear that the talks would not produce a compromise Brexit deal, but has not been agreed by Labour.

The document emerged just moments before Mr Corbyn pulled the plug on the talks process, which has stretched over more than six weeks but appears to have foundered on the issue of post-Brexit customs arrangements and Labour concerns that any deal could be torn up by a future Tory leader.

The plan set out in the leaked paper envisages a series of four votes to take place on June 5 on:

  • Whether the UK should leave the EU with a deal
  • Setting a new deadline of July 31 for Brexit
  • Ruling out a second referendum
  • A package of Goverment concessions to Labour on issues like workers’ rights and participation in EU agencies.

Crucially, the paper indicates that the two sides have not agreed on post-Brexit customs arrangements. It proposes a separate series of “elimination ballots” on a range of four options, from Labour’s favoured comprehensive customs union with a UK say to a looser arrangement allowing Britain to forge its own deals elsewhere in the world.

Results from the four indicative votes and the elimination ballots are unlikely to be known in time to shape the drafting of Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill, due to come back before the Commons in the week of June 3, says the document. But under the indicative votes plan, MPs’ preferences would be reflected in draft Government amendments to the legislation.

The plan was denounced by People's Vote campaigners as a "cynical" attempt to block a second Brexit referendum.

Labour MP Alex Sobel, a supporter of People's Vote, said: “This is the battle plan for a desperate Prime Minister to freeze the people out of the biggest decision facing the country in two generations.

“Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this proposed stitch-up is that it has been drawn up with the idea that Labour could be persuaded to sign up to it.

“If this cynical plan shows anything, it is that Theresa May hopes her legacy will be to stop the public from having the Final Say on a deal that neither Parliament or the country wants. It seems she is perfectly happy to trade any promise she has ever made on Brexit just so long as she can keep the ultimate decision in the hands of politicians.

“For Labour the choice is now as much moral as it is political.

“It can choose to endorse a Conservative plan that cuts people out of the decision by propping up an ailing Government’s decrepit strategy that will dismay both sides of the Brexit debate. It can choose to defy the overwhelming majority of its members, voters and MPs. It can choose endorsement of a broken Brexit deal that breaks most of the promises made for Brexit and in which any concessions will doubtless be ripped up by the hardliner chosen by the Tory members to replace the Prime Minister."

“Or Labour can now take a stand and make it clear there is no prospect of Labour ever agreeing to any Brexit deal that is not handed back to the people for the final say.”

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