Henry Zeffman, Political Correspondent | Oliver Wright, Policy Editor
March 27 2019, 12:00pm, The Times
This evening, for the first time since Britain decided to leave the European Union in 2016, MPs will get the chance to vote on what kind of Brexit they favour.
In the past 24 hours groups of MPs have put forward 16 motions for debate this afternoon. They range from a hard, no-deal Brexit to the softest type of departure that would keep Britain in both the customs union and single market.
MPs will be able to vote in favour of as many options as they like and by tonight we will know for what, if anything, there is majority support.
So what are the options, who supports them and could they be negotiated with Brussels?
Permanent customs union
Under this plan the UK would implement Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement but also negotiate a continuing customs union with the EU. This would mitigate but not remove the problem of the Irish border and come closer to “frictionless” trade with the EU while preserving Mrs May’s desire to end free movement of people. But Britain could not strike new free trade deals.
Who backs it? Labour’s official policy is supportive of a customs union although it also wants a seat at the table in the EU’s trade negotiations with new partners and could pick other holes in this plan. Few in Brussels believe this is any more than a pipe dream. Some business-focused Tory MPs who backed Mrs May’s deal will also regard this as the next best option. There have been intriguing signals that the DUP could accept a permanent customs union.
Who opposes it? Conservative MPs for whom striking new trade deals around the world is the great prize of Brexit.
How would Europe respond? This option could certainly be discussed with the European Union. Michel Barnier, its chief negotiatior, has made clear that if Mrs May’s red lines changed then so would the EU position.
How likely is it to get a majority? Labour will back it, and so will a number of Tory MPs. Much will depend on the SNP and the Lib Dems. If they came out in support it is almost certain to win a majority.
Norway Plus (Common Market 2.0)
Spearheaded by Nick Boles, the former Tory minister, this involves Britain passing Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement but also negotiating continued membership of the single market alongside a customs union until and unless technology can be found to remove the need for border checks. This would solve the Irish border question and trade between the UK and the EU would effectively remain the same. But it would require the UK to continue to allow free movement of people and leave it subject to EU rules without any say in how they are made.
Who backs it? As well as Mr Boles the leading proponents are the Tory MP Robert Halfon and the Labour MPs Stephen Kinnock and Lucy Powell. Unshackled from the whip, many MPs on both sides are thought to believe it is a sensible compromise.
Who opposes it? Those who believe it is Brexit in name only. Also MPs on both sides who feel the referendum was a verdict on immigration so it would not be right to keep free movement.
How would Europe respond? This is an option that could be negotiated with the EU, although it would not be as straightforward as it proponents claim. There would be strict conditions on this type of relationship — and the UK would be required to continue paying into EU budgets.
How likely is it to get a majority? Labour are preparing to whip MPs to back the plan and it could also win the support of dozens of Tory MPs. Its chances of getting a majority could depend on what the SNP’s 30-odd MPs do — if they back it or abstain then it could go through. Intriguingly, the DUP could also back this option as it would solve the Irish border issue and by signalling their support, the unionists could really up the ante on the government to make further concessions.