Theresa May’s hopes of a ‘Plan B’ Brexit deal with Jeremy Corbyn look set to be dashed as senior Labour figures have warned they can’t sign up to her plea to abide by a fresh set of Commons votes.
Talks between the government and opposition broke up again without any substantive agreement on Monday night, and few on either side now expect a cross-party agreement on major issues such as customs or a second referendum.
But with her preferred option of a joint deal on the edge of collapse, HuffPost UK has learned that even May’s fallback plan - of a series of ‘definitive votes’, whittling various plans down to one single option - is set to be rejected by Labour.
May’s idea of both parties agreeing be bound by the votes has gone down badly as the party’s MPs and shadow ministers have made clear they can’t be expected to “blindly” back any of the outcomes.
After the third crushing defeat of her Brexit plans six weeks ago, the prime minister said the way out of the parliamentary deadlock was to work with Labour on a joint plan, and if that failed to hold a series of votes on alternatives.
The talks have failed to produce any workable compromise to date as shadow ministers complain that there has been little change in the government’s stance.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer led a Labour team that held yet more talks with government ministers, fronted by May’s de facto deputy David Lidington, in the Commons on Monday night.
Corbyn told his MPs at the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP): “The government’s red lines have not changed and the idea that Tory MPs are going to come round any time soon to accept the deal is fanciful.”
And as the Cabinet prepares to meet on Tuesday, May is under pressure to end the talks and instead push for what No.10 calls ‘Plan B’.
MPs would be asked to stage a series of votes on alternatives ranging from a customs union to a Norway-style exit to a second referendum.
Some ministers want to force the Commons to make its mind up through a series of X-factor-style run-off votes to produce a majority that has so far eluded parliament.
Unlike previous ‘indicative votes’, MPs would stage ‘definitive’ or ‘iterative’ votes to get a final result, with second preferences being used in a voting system.
However, shadow ministers and Labour insiders have revealed deep-seated opposition to the idea of the run-off votes, and of the party agreeing to be bound by the results, whatever the outcome.
“It ain’t gonna happen,” one party source said. “No minority in a parliamentary democracy could ever sign up to that system, for something where you agree to be bound by an outcome without knowing what it will be.
“And even if we wanted to, the idea we could force our MPs to agree to it is for the birds.”
A shadow minister said it was fanciful to suggest that Labour would agree to be bound by any process that could in turn be torn up by a new ‘no-deal’ Tory leader like Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab.
“It’s just not a runner. All the same issues that apply in the talks apply here [to ‘definitive’ votes]. We can’t sign up to something where the options could be laid and our hands are bound, then their hands aren’t.
“And anything that squeaks through now, would need to be put to the public. Nothing is going through on the Labour side in terms of a stable majority for a unified position if it doesn’t have that attached.”
There is deep scepticism among MPs that the idea of ‘indicative votes’ could produce any further progress than when they were last used several weeks ago.
Following a push by Tory grandee Sir Oliver Letwin, MPs failed to produce a majority for any of the options.
Now, it is understood that even Letwin has confided to colleagues to the effort to get a Commons majority through a new run-off process is highly unlikely. “The indicative votes idea has run its course,” one insider said.
Some Labour MPs believe that May will still try to push her series of votes, with her own Brexit deal among them, if only to prove that her plan has more votes than other alternatives.
Earlier, No.10 signalled that the ‘Plan B’ of more votes was in part reliant on the opposition.
“Ideally we would have Labour support in order to go ahead with these votes. Because obviously what is important is we are seeking a stable majority for a way to leave the EU with a deal,” the PM’s official spokesman said.
When asked by HuffPost UK if there were any other options May was considering, the spokesman replied: “I’m not aware of anything further, other than what we continue to work on, which is essentially Plan A.
“If that is not the plan we are able to move forward, then the alternative route would be a small number of votes.”
A Labour source said that no substantive progress had been made in the talks: “Talks continued tonight and the shadow cabinet and trades unions will be updated on what has been discussed.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “In preparation for an update to Cabinet tomorrow, today’s meeting took stock across the range of issues discussed in talks over the last few weeks.
“We continue to seek to agree a way forward in order to secure our orderly withdrawal from the EU.”