- Members of Parliament will approve or reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal on Tuesday, December 11.
- The process, which will start with a gruelling five-day debate, will culminate in what is known as the “meaningful vote.”
- May needs to win the historic vote.
- If she doesn’t, depending on the size of her defeat, all sorts of chaotic scenarios could come into play.
- The prime minister could feel compelled to resign and a Tory leadership election would follow. She might ask the EU to extend the Article 50 process. There might be a general election.
- A senior Tory MP told Business Insider momentum for a “People’s Vote” would grow rapidly if the deal is rejected.
LONDON – Theresa May has finally announced the date of the “meaningful vote” on Brexit, the momentous day in Parliament when MPs will approve or reject the deal she has spent the last two years negotiating in Brussels.
Here’s what is set to happen next.
1. The government this week published a business motion confirming the timetable for the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement. This motion is expected to pass without too many complications.
2. Assuming the business motion passes, MPs will begin a marathon five-day debate on the Withdrawal Agreement on Tuesday 4 December. Expect lots of Conservative MPs to stand up and say they don’t think May’s deal is very good. Expect even more Labour MPs to say the same. Expect Jeremy Corbyn to call for a general election.
3. The five-day debate will conclude on Tuesday 11 December. The Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow will then decide which amendments MPs can table to the main motion.
This is crucial: MPs will be able to table amendments to the motion. May’s team had previously indicated they would try to prevent this from happening, but they have now accepted doing to would be too difficult. This week a group of cross-party MPs led by Labour’s Hilary Benn put down an amendment which would give MPs the power to say what steps the UK government should take if May’s deal can’t get through Parliament. Possible next steps include extending negotiations, a softer Brexit, or holding another referendum. Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, has tabled one of his own which rejects May’s deal and seeks to block a no deal Brexit. You can also expect amendments calling for a second referendum and for the UK to seek permanent customs union membership.
This is also crucial: There probably isn’t a parliamentary majority for most of the amendments. One senior Tory MP with intimate knowledge of the meaningful vote process told Business Insider they believed there simply wasn’t a parliamentary majority for any major amendment, like a second referendum, if it is tabled. Parliament is too divided.
“Whether there are amendments tabled is a matter for the house, and I’m by no means convinced there will be,” the MP said. “The likelihood of there being an amendment that commands a majority in the Commons is small.”
However, the amendment tabled by Benn this week has attracted strong cross-party support, including the support of the Labour leader Corbyn, and will likely be backed by a number of pro-EU Conservative MPs.
4. On December 11, the debate will wrap up and voting will commence. First, MPs will vote on any amendments to the motion. Then, they will vote on the motion itself. The motion will likely ask MPs to approve three things: a statement that an agreement has been reached, the withdrawal agreement, and the declaration on the future relationship.
That is the big moment: The crunch vote which the prime minister is expected to lose.
Why does any of this matter?
A different way of asking that question is: How meaningful is the meaningful vote?
Well, it’s meaningful in the sense that MPs will have five days to debate the contents of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration (the 26-page text outlining the shape of the future UK-EU relationship.) It is meaningful in the sense that MPs have to give parliamentary consent before May can enact her Brexit deal into legislation.
The vote is not meaningful in the sense that as things stand, MPs won’t be able to substantially change the deal.
They can’t table amendments demanding, for example, that May remove the backstop from the deal (there isn’t a parliamentary majority for doing so anyway). And while there is more wiggle room for MPs to try and table amendments on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, it’s very unlikely any such major amendment would pass. May could even see her hand strengthened if she can prove that amendments on alternative Brexit plans don’t command a majority in the house.
If May wins? Legislation will be laid to put the Withdrawal Agreement into law very quickly. The UK would leave the EU on March 29, 2019. It’s very unlikely.
If May loses? Chaos. Depending on the size of her defeat, May could feel compelled to resign. ConservativeHome estimated on Friday that she could lose by a margin of up to 180 MPs. If she did resign, a Tory leadership election would follow. An extension to Article 50 could be required. A general election might be triggered.
Momentum for a fresh Brexit referendum would grow rapidly. A minister in May’s government told Business Insider that they’d come out in support for another referendum if the alternative was no deal – and that lots of Conservative MPs, including some in government, would do the same. Organisers of the People’s Vote campaign have told Business Insider that they are in talks with up to 50 Conservative MPs who could possibly join of the movement.
One senior Tory MP who campaigned for Remain told Business Insider: “The house can’t be prevented from debating any motions they like [if May’s deal is rejected]. During the course of those debates, it will become clear that there are a lot of MPs who want a second referendum,” they said.
“There will be at some point a vote where I hope parliament will indicate their preference for a public vote.”
Here’s an illustration of the meaningful vote process.
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