- Members of Parliaments will vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal for a second time next week.
- It is widely expected to be rejected again, possibly by another big margin of defeat.
- A second defeat would put the prime minister under pressure to scrap her plan and pursue a different course.
- MPs could vote to delay Brexit.
- If they don’t, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union is less than three weeks away.
LONDON – Theresa May will bring her Brexit deal back to parliament on Tuesday next week to give MPs a chance to accept or reject it for a second time.
Here’s a look at the week ahead at the crucial vote, and what happens if MPs hand the prime minister another crushing defeat.
Will the deal pass this time?
When the deal was defeated by 230 votes in January, the prime minister pledged to “to identify what would be required to secure the backing of the house.” That would involve winning some votes from Labour MPs, almost all of whom voted against the deal. It would also involve winning votes from the 118 Tory MPs who voted against her deal.
She targeted the votes of Labour MPs in Leave-voting constituencies by announcing a £1.6 billion fund for their regions and offering promises on workers’ rights, including former shadow minister Lisa Nandy. But those MPs have mostly dismissed the fund as a gimmick, and no-one has publicly said that it has persuaded them to back the deal.
Most of the prime minister’s efforts have focused on winning the support of Conservative and Democratic Unionist Party MPs by securing legally-binding changes to the Irish backstop.
The UK attorney-general Geoffrey Cox has spent this week in Brussels trying to win concessions from the EU, possibly in the form of an independent arbitration panel that would rule on whether the backstop was necessary.
But the talks have gone badly, and Cox on Friday cancelled a visit to Belgium amid reports that both sides were so far apart in their demands that significant progress looks highly unlikely.
A small number of Tory MPs who voted against the deal have announced they will now back it because they fear its defeat could lead to a Brexit delay. But without the changes the prime minister pledged to try and secure, she is unlikely to have the numbers to get her deal through parliament.
What happens if her deal is defeated?
It depends how badly she loses the vote.
If she loses by a small margin, she could feasibly try and hold a third meaningful vote on her deal before the UK’s scheduled EU departure on March 29. Faced with the option of her deal and a less appealing alternative – perhaps a lengthy delay to Brexit – a majority of MPs could finally decide to back her deal.
Before that, in any case, she promised MPs two other important votes this week.
The first will ask them whether they support a no-deal Brexit. The second will ask them whether they wish to delay Brexit. Those votes are likely to be held consecutively on Wednesday and Thursday next week.
The question of how May whips her own MPs on the no-deal has not yet been addressed and would likely impact the outcome of the vote. Parliament has previously indicated that it is opposed to a no-deal Brexit. If it did so again, the prime minister would likely feel compelled to take the option off the table.
If the prime minister’s deal is defeated by a big margin – perhaps by more than 80 votes – she would come under huge pressure from Remain factions within her own party as well as from Labour to pivot to a “softer” form of Brexit. It would likely be seen as a sign that her deal cannot ever command support in parliament.
At that stage, the prime minister could be compelled to hand over control of Brexit to parliament, using the cover of indicative votes to let the House express its will for a way forward which commands a majority. That would, in essence, mean a softer Brexit, perhaps involving permanent customs union membership, that would have the support of some Tory MPs and most Labour MPs.
The prime minister would at that stage also be under intense pressure to resign from Brexiteers and Remainers alike.
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