How Would Indicative Votes on Brexit Work in U.K. Parliament?

(Bloomberg) -- With the opposition Labour Party calling time on more than six weeks of discussions with Theresa May’s government aimed at finding a Brexit compromise, the prime minister’s next move looks set to be non-binding votes in Parliament on different options for the U.K.’s EU departure.

The point of the exercise would be to show what kind of Brexit a majority in Parliament could support. But it’s not clear how that could translate into delivering and ratifying a deal.

How would the process work? An official close to the process said two models are under consideration:

  • Through a single transferable vote, whereby members of Parliament would rank the options in order of preference. The one with the least first-choice votes would be eliminated, with its votes being re-allocated to second places. The process of reallocation would continue until only one option is left.
  • Through an exhaustive ballot. MPs would vote for a single option, and the one with least votes is eliminated. They then vote again on the the remaining options, with the process repeated until one remains.

The official said their preference would be to use an exhaustive ballot, but that any process would need buy-in from Labour, because the government would have to know it could get any ensuing legislation to implement the result through the House of Commons. Labour said on Friday it would "carefully consider any proposals" the government wants to put forward, but the party has indicated it’s not prepared to be bound by the results of any votes.

ITV News’s Robert Peston reported on Friday that the government is debating announcing the ballot in an emergency statement on Monday, with the votes taking place on Wednesday.

A government document cited by Peston lists four different options for customs arrangements to be voted on, as well as votes to rule out or in a confirmatory referendum on any deal, and to ensure Brexit happens before July 31.

The votes are May’s long-stated plan B in case talks with Labour failed. However, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay cast doubt on the idea earlier this week saying there was no point unless Labour agreed to be bound by the results.

A government spokesman said on Friday no decision had been made.

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