This evening, MPs will vote on the second round of indicative votes. The essence is to find some alternative to the Brexit plan as put to the House by Theresa May and rejected by the Commons 2.5 times. The first round of indicative votes came up blank for a very simple reason – the real majority in the House is for finding someway to cancel Brexit, either outright or through the cover of a second referendum, but they are all too scared of the electorate to actually say so. Instead, we go round in circles.
What do we expect tonight? The logical thing would be for them to coalesce around a second referendum since this is actually the most straightforward possibility, oddly enough. The argument against it tends to be that it will cause division – this is really starting not to wash given the divisions in society that are already clearly there. Another complaint is that another referendum will not settle the issue unless somehow it produces a thumping result either way. News flash: nothing is going to settle the issue definitively. The Brexit issue will rage on for another decade at least, which it feels like I’ve been saying for a decade already even though it’s only been three years and a bit.
What’s likely is they’ll convene around adding a customs union to the political declaration. Although this is really a minor wrinkle and represents the Remain House trying to find a compromise, it isn’t going to work. Grayling and Truss have come out with both barrels against a Customs Union for the usual reason: it will stop the UK signing imaginary trade deals with the USA and China.
Further, if this is about getting May’s deal over the line, then I’m afraid I have to go back to putting “deal” in quotations. All this will achieve is a new Tory prime minister announcing “Bollocks to Customs Union” on day one in Number Ten and on we go.
There are also problems with any other form of softer Brexit. The EEA/EFTA possibility is faced with the very, very real issue that none of the EFTA countries really want us anymore. The reasons are pretty sound as well: the UK is a huge economy that will disrupt their strange little band quite profoundly. Add to this the fact that the UK will treat it like purgatory, disrupting everything and then very possibly pissing off elsewhere, and no wonder Lichtenstein and the Norwegians aren’t that keen.
Also, the Brexiteers objections to EFTA will be much greater given the free movement issue. There is no compromise there to be reached. A second referendum, sadly in most respects, is all there is left. The House has to realise there is no magical solution; there is no easy way out of all of this. It should come together around something that at least theoretically solves the problem at hand. My bet is that they won’t, but I would be be happy to be proven wrong on this.