Brexit, at the best of times, has been confusing. However, over the last few months, it only seems as if it has got more confusing: from backstops to deals, votes of no confidence to people’s votes, people across the UK and in the wider world have (rightfully) felt lost.
So Europe Elects has answered the call.
We’ve compiled the answers to a few key questions about tomorrow’s vote and beyond in one place, so you can sound smarter than all your friends throughout the coming inevitable turmoil.
What is the meaningful vote? When will it happen?
Tomorrow (Jan 15), at around 1900 GMT, the UK parliament will be asked to vote on the Brexit deal presented to it by embattled Prime Minister Theresa May (Con-ECR). The deal lays out an agreement on how the UK will depart from the European Union, something the UK voted to do on a 52%-48% referendum vote in June 2016. PM May has negotiated this deal over the last 18 months with EU leaders: both she and the EU claim this “is the only possible deal.” The vote was originally supposed to take place in December, however, May cancelled the vote at the last minute as it was widely accepted that she would not win.
If the deal passes, the Deal will become law and the UK will leave the European Union on the terms agreed in the agreement on March 30 at 0000 CET.
Will the deal pass?
Short answer? No. Slightly longer answer? Probably not.
Over 100 of the Conservative (ECR) government’s own Members of Parliament (MPs) have said they will vote against the deal – some because they think it gives too much away to the EU and is not far enough separated from the EU, and others because they think it is too far away from the EU. All opposition parties have said they are going to have their MPs vote against the deal, with the deal only being supported by a handful of rebels from the Labour Party (S&D) and a single independent MP who quit the Liberal Democrats (ALDE) so that he could vote for the deal.
Most significantly, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP-NI), who support Theresa May as Prime Minister as part of a confidence-and-supply deal signed after the 2017 General Election, have said they will not be voting for the deal. They have been critical of the preparations in the deal for a “Northern Irish backstop” which they claim will mean Northern Ireland (one of the four nations that make up the United Kingdom, which has a land border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member) is treated differently to the rest of the UK. The DUP voting against the agreement means that even if every single Conservative MP voted for the deal, it would still not have a majority.
What will happen if the Deal fails?
There are multiple possibilities of what might happen if (when?) the deal loses its vote in parliament on the 15th, however, they all require us to remind you that we at Europe Elects are not Doctor Strange, so we cannot look at all the potential futures. There will always be a chance something surprising and unexpected will happen.
Legally, as a result of a last minute rule change last week, the government must return to parliament with a “Plan B” within 3 days of a defeat in the Tuesday vote. Nothing else is obligated to happen.
We think there are (approximately) four possible outcomes if the deal fails (listed here in no particular order).
Option A: No deal brexit
This is the ‘simplest’ of outcomes. When Article 50 (the mechanism by which a country secedes from the EU) was triggered, midnight in Brussels on the 30 March 2019 was set as the date that Britain would leave the EU. If no deal is reached, and it reaches that time, Britain leaves the European anyway, defaulting onto basic rules which are known as World Trade Organisation rules. This requires full border checks to be enforced between Britain and its neighbours, at ports, airports and on land.
While many who backed the Leave vote in 2016 argue this would be the best deal, allowing Britain to start from a neutral position in negotiating with the EU for a trade deal, many are concerned that it would cause a massive hike in the price of essential goods due to tariff increases and shortages that could mean Britain could run out of food and medical supplies.
Option B: May calls a popular vote on her deal
If she cannot win in the current parliament, May might decide her best option is to ‘go over the heads’ of MPs and instead ask the British people. This could take the shape of a snap general election in which Theresa May asks the British people for a mandate via re-election of her government for her deal. This would be risky, as she suffered a serious blow to her leadership in a snap general election in 2017.
Alternatively, she could call a referendum on her deal. It is unclear what might be on the ballot paper in this vote, but it is likely it would be: Leave with the government deal vs. Leave without a deal or potentially with an option to Remain in the EU as well. It is unknown what the outcome of this vote would be as the polling is not consistent.
Option C: Vote of no confidence
Labour, the main opposition party, have suggested that should May lose the vote on her deal on Tuesday, they might immediately table a motion of no confidence in the government. If this happens, and the motion gains a simple majority (50%+1) in parliament then Theresa May will lose her job as PM. Any potential government will then have two weeks to win a confidence vote with a simple majority, or, if no government can be formed, a general election is triggered.
This outcome is the preference of the leadership of the Labour Party, the most likely alternative to a Conservative government. However, a
Option D: Renegotiated brexit deal
Some argue that May could use parliaments rejection of her deal to go back to the EU and persuade them to change their mind on contentious issues, so that a deal can pass – as a no deal result would have a negative impact on the EU as well, if to a much smaller degree than it would on the UK. Some MPs argue that perhaps a different leader and negotiating team might be able to get a different deal, such as opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn (Lab-S&D), or a prominent brexiteer like Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg (both Con-ECR). However, many are sceptical that this would be able to take place, as the EU has stated (as May has) that no other deal would be possible. Either way, a new deal would have to also get through the commons in the same way this one failed to – and that would re-open the pandora’s box again.
As you can see, the prospects are… messy. Many have argued that to do any of the three latter options more time would be needed – which might require the UK to request an extension to Article 50 from the EU27, or perhaps force the UK to rescind the Article 50, delaying or stopping Brexit either temporarily or indefinitely. The truth is, at this point, essentially no possibility is off the table, but either way: this week is going to be a long one for British politics.
If you have any more questions please do get in touch with us via social media, as we may soon be back for another Q&A as things develop. If you’d like to see another article like this on another topic you’re struggling to get to grips with, message us: we love hearing from our community!
Euan is the Editor-in-Chief of Europe Elects.