With No Majority For A Brexit Plan, MPs Should Use An Alternative Vote System To Decide How We Leave

There is no outright majority for any Brexit plan – so why don't MPs rank their options in order of preference?

As we saw last night, there is no majority support for the British government’s chosen Brexit policy. This is despite the reckless manner in which the Prime Minister has run down the clock. There is also no majority in the House of Commons for an irresponsible no-deal Brexit.

Despite the Prime Minister portraying the decision before Members of Parliament as a binary choice between her deal and no-deal, the truth is, there are many more options on offer, which command much more support amongst MPs. But amongst these many options, it appears no outright majority is forthcoming.

We are still some way off achieving the cross-parliamentary consensus needed to fulfil the statutory obligations on how, and for that matter if, we leave the EU. The consequence of this impasse is the ratcheting up of the threat of a disastrous no-deal exit. It’s this potential position of paralysis leading to a “no-deal by default” which encourages anxiety about a severe economic, diplomatic and legal dislocation from Europe in two months’ time.

With all this in mind, those of us who oppose the British government’s policy need to explain how to avoid a no-deal Brexit when there is seemingly no clear majority in the binary voting system that is the norm in the House of Commons.

I stand steadfast in my belief that a ‘People’s Vote’ is the best way to proceed. In order to arrive at that proposal, we will need the support of the executive and ultimately the legislature to be able to arrive at that proposal.

The question is, how?

How do we avoid a no-deal by ensuring parliament comes to an agreement? The answer could lie in using an alternative voting system.

Some politicians are arguing that indicative voting could be introduced, such as the system used during the debate on Lords reform. The danger with this system is that, just like with Lords reform, no alternative proposal will gain majority support.

To avoid no-deal by default, I believe we will need to be a little more creative.

It seems to me that at this point of high crisis a potential safety net could be deployed by using a voting system designed to ensure a majority conclusion.

The Alternative Vote (AV) is one way of achieving that ambition, whereby members rank the options before them in order of preference, thereby knocking off the least popular options until the House arrives at a conclusion. A multiple winner version of this voting system is used for the election of Deputy Speakers and Select Committee Chairs. AV was also initially proposed by Government for House of Lords reform. The Labour Party also use it in their internal elections.

Another possible model could be the weakest link procedure: a multi-round election where, in each round, MPs vote between all remaining alternatives. The proposal with the least votes would be eliminated. Voting continues until only one alternative is left. The weakest link procedure satisfies the Concordet method theory and the neutrality principle and is used in Conservative Party leadership elections.

Any new procedure for coming to a majority position will need to be approved by the House. The best way to arrive at this model is by producing a parliamentary report which includes the voting procedure and the options on the table in its recommendations.

A government motion approving the report’s recommendations will then have to be agreed by the House of Commons. The quickest way to produce a report is by forming a working group comprising all party leaders, such as the Working Group for an Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy.

The working group’s terms of reference would have to include deciding on the fairest voting system to ensure agreement on the proposed Brexit model and deciding on the proposals for which parliamentarians vote.

My party would always have a preference for a People’s Vote. And I believe with this method of voting, it would be the most preferred option of Members of Parliament across the House of Commons.

The House of Commons has effectively taken control of Brexit policy and has defeated the British Government’s deeply deficient deal. Now we must ensure that we can find a way of coming to a conclusive decision which stops a disastrous no-deal by default.

Jonathan Edwards is the Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr


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