Will Labour MPs give more support to cancelling Brexit?

Will Labour MPs give more support to cancelling Brexit? Asks Robert Peston. Credit: Press Association

Labour has not tabled a motion for today’s indicative votes on a way through the Brexit mess - which feels like an important moment, perhaps because it has recognised that its proprietary version of Brexit is dead and its role instead is to work with all MPs to identify a deliverable alternative (which could be no Brexit at all) to the prime minister’s thrice rejected plan.

Presumably the thrust of Labour’s effort in the hours ahead will be to secure support for the Kyle/Wilson call for a “confirmatory” referendum (a referendum on any Brexit deal approved by parliament).

But even so, the prospect of a majority of MPs backing a people’s vote today is slim.

Prime Minister Theresa May arrives with her husband Philip to attend a church service near her Maidenhead constituency. Credit: PA

So the big question is whether Labour will whip or compel its MPs to vote again for Ken Clarke’s motion that would mandate the government to keep the UK in the customs union. Even though Clarke’s proposal is broadly consistent with Labour policy, Jeremy Corbyn will be aware of what I argued yesterday, that if Clarke emerges as the winner, that would provide the best backdrop for the prime minister to have one last shot at having her own deal approved, tomorrow (for more on her plans, see here.)

Another gripping question is how Labour will whip and vote on the motion laid by Joanna Cherry of the SNP. That motion has been reworked since last week after discussions with Labour to make it more palatable to the official opposition.

It no longer simply turns the default of a no-deal Brexit in the absence of a ratified Brexit deal into revocation of the decision to leave the EU. Instead it would mandate the government first to seek a Brexit delay and would only move to revocation if the EU refused a postponement.

The SNP's Joanna Cherry. Credit: PA

And it also specifies that after revocation a public inquiry would be initiated into whether there is a version of Brexit that would command public support, and if such a Brexit iteration were found it would be put to another referendum.

In other words, if Jeremy Corbyn and Labour were to support the Cherry motion, they could just about claim that in agreeing with her that no-deal should be totally obliterated as an option and replaced by a default of staying in the EU, they were nonetheless explicitly setting up a process to find a less divisive and contentious form of Brexit.

Cherry has been clever in offering this fig leaf of continued backing for a possible future Brexit to Labour and any other MPs who wish - tenuously perhaps - to say they still respect the result of the 2017 referendum.

But the Cherry plan is the fig leaf of fig leaves, and is probably too clever by half - which is presumably why so few Labour MPs have signed her motion, even though many more support her aims. Apart from anything else, if it were supported by MPs, any residual notion that May’s government runs this place in any meaningful way would be erased.