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Here’s what happens next in Brexit



Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May holds a news conference at Downing Street in LondonReuters / Matt Dunham

  • 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
  • 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

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?

Theresa May Ruth DavidsonJeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

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
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

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.

Brexit meaningful vote chartHouse of Commons Library

Read Business Insider’s explainer on the full range of
possibilities here

Our Brexit Insider Facebook group is the best place for up-to-date news and analysis about Britain’s departure from the EU, direct from Business Insider’s political reporters. Join here.

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