The House of Commons will attempt to break its Brexit deadlock today with votes on alternatives to Prime Minister Theresa May’s divorce deal with the European Union. The exact way the so-called “indicative votes” will work is still the subject of debate, but based on conversations with people at the heart of the plan, here’s what to expect.
Kick off: By 10:00 AM EDT
The action could begin shortly after the end of Prime Minister’s Questions, usually about 08.45 AM EDT. But even if there are government statements and urgent questions to ministers to fit in at that time, there won’t be long to wait. Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow is under instructions to interrupt any other business at 10:00 AM EDT.
This is the moment when Parliament will take control of its own proceedings, which are usually in the hands of the government. MPs will start by debating what to do next, in the form of a “Business of the House” motion. One of these will have been published by Oliver Letwin, the Conservative behind the process, but it’s possible there will be rivals. It’s up to Bercow to decide which takes precedence.
First vote: By 11:00 AM EDT
By 11:00 AM at the latest, Parliament has to vote on that motion — and any amendments to it. There is discussion about changing the proposed voting method, and there could be attempts to sabotage the session. Those would come during these votes. But assuming Letwin’s plan survives any attempt to disrupt it, the next stage is:
Bercow Announces the Options
Members of Parliament will have put forward proposals they think should be voted on and it’s up to Bercow to choose which go forward. He’ll announce his selection at the start of the debate.
They could include: No Brexit; a second referendum; staying in the EU’s customs unions and single market; May’s deal; and a no-deal Brexit.
The Options are Debated
A good moment to make a cup of tea, as MPs rehearse their objections to each other’s ideas. This may feel familiar to anyone who’s been following events for the last three years.
Voting: 03:00 PM EDT
At 03:00 PM EDT, Bercow will draw proceedings to a close and announce the vote. This won’t be like the usual House of Commons votes, where MPs walk through different lobbies to express their views. Instead, they’ll be given a piece of paper listing the options, and asked to vote Aye or No on each one. They’ll have half an hour.
Delay Brexit: 03.30 PM EDT
While those votes are being counted, the government will lead a debate on a legal order that needs to be passed to formalize the Brexit delay that Theresa May negotiated with the EU last week. These debates usually last 90 minutes, and finish with a vote in the usual way. There’s no danger of this vote not passing.
Indicative Vote Results: 04:30 PM – 06:00 PM EDT
Counting the indicative votes will probably take around an hour, and it will be up to Bercow whether he interrupts the government debate to announce the result, or waits until later. So some time before 06:00 PM EDT
The results will show how many MPs voted for and against each motion, and what happens next depends on that.
Come Back On Monday
Under Letwin’s proposals, Parliament will next have control of its own agenda on Monday April 1. That could be used to narrow options further, or to order the government to pursue a particular course of action.
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