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How it will play out if MPs vote down Theresa May’s Brexit deal

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Theresa May DO NOT USE
Theresa
May

Neil Hall / Reuters; Yves Herman /
Reuters; Samantha Lee / Business Insider


LONDON — As the dust settles on the most chaotic week of British
politics in recent memory, one question has become increasingly
important. What happens if parliament votes down Theresa May’s
Brexit deal?

Early in December, the prime minister will put her deal to a
“meaningful vote,” in parliament. As things stand, it’s looking
increasingly likely that MPs will reject it.

All opposition parties have vowed to oppose the deal, with only a
small handful of rebel Labour MPs set to support the
government. 

Meanwhile, the Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May’s
minority government, say they intend to oppose the
deal because of the “backstop” mechanism agreed to by May
would mean additional checks on goods passing between Great
Britain and Northern Ireland.

A significant number of Conservative MPs also intend to oppose
the deal.  Around 20 have already called for a vote of no
confidence in May because of the deal with around a dozen more
also suggesting they are likely to oppose the deal, both on the
Leave and Remain wings of the party.

Anything but a defeat for the prime minister therefore appears
unlikely. So what will happen if May does lose that vote? Here’s
how it could all play out.

1. A no-deal Brexit


Will there be a Brexit deal?
Theresa May
Getty

The first option is to leave the EU without a deal in March next
year. There are two distinct types of no-deal exit. A relatively
managed no-deal in which both sides acknowledge their inability
to sign off a deal, and try to minimise chaos for businesses and
people by reaching ad-hoc side agreements in important areas like
border controls and cross-border finance contracts.

The alternative is an acrimonious and very hard exit with
the UK paying no money and the EU rejecting
side-deals. 
However, such an outcome is unlikely
according to Charles Grant at the Centre for European Reform, who
believes “those responsible for the chaos would soon become
unpopular with their voters; also, the financial markets’
reaction would be more extreme, with a sharp weakening in the
value of the pound.”

Neither the EU or the UK want to leave without a deal. Even hard
Brexiteers like Liam Fox appear to have awoken to the dangers of
such an outcome, with the International Trade Secretary saying on
Friday that “a deal is better than no deal.” 

However, if May is unable to get a deal through then a no-deal
Brexit becomes the default position. However unlikely it may
seem, the possibility cannot be ruled out.

2. A general election


Jeremy Corbyn John McDonnell
Jeremy Corbyn and John
McDonnell

Leon Neal/Getty
Images


If May is unable to get a deal through parliament then one option
open to her is a general election. This is the option being
pursued by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who believes he can
put enough pressure on May to force her to go back to the country
if she is unable to get support for her deal from MPs. It would
certainly not be impossible to force an election, but under the Fixed Term
Parliaments Act it would require at least 7 Conservative MPs to
join the opposition in backing one for a new election to be held.

After the calamitous experience of last year’s general election
where May threw away her majority, and with the parties close in
the polls, most Conservative MPs are horrified by the prospect of
an election for one simple reason: They could lose. The prospect
of a radical socialist prime minister would likely be enough to
frighten pretty much all Tory MPs away from backing an
election. 

Tory MP and former minister Guto Bebb, who backs a “People’s
Vote,” told Business Insider that he would expect the
Conservatives to lose “very badly” if they sought a general
election after the deal failed in parliament.

“If the prime minister’s deal fails in parliament, and she
decides to call a general election to get a mandate, my
expectation is that the Conservative party would lose very
badly,” he said.

“The proposition would be: ‘So far we’ve failed, can we have a
vote of confidence please?'”

“I just can’t see that being a rational way forward for the
government,” he added.

3. Send the prime minister back to Brussels


Michel Barnier
Michel Barnier
Getty

Part of the justification made by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for
another election would be to allow him to take over the reins of
government in order to renegotiate a deal with the EU. The
current line from Brussels is that the deal cannot be
re-negotiated. However, if push came to shove, there would
probably be room for at least some EU flexibility in order to
avoid a damaging no-deal Brexit. The pressure for more
flexibility would arguably be even greater if there was a new
prime minister and party in Downing Street. However, any
renegotiation would require time and the possible extension of
the Article 50 process. While the EU has not ruled out an
extension they would likely be incredibly reluctant to do so
under any but the most extreme scenarios.

4. A People’s Vote


Brexit People's Vote protest
An anti-Brexit
protestor

Alex McBride/Getty
Images


There is growing cross-party support in Westminster for a
so-called People’s Vote — or a second referendum — especially
among Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs, but also some prominent
Conservative MPs including Dominic Grieve and Jo Johnson.

There are several factors working against supporters of a
People’s Vote, however. Critics say it would undermine trust in
democracy and potentially cause civil unrest. They also point out
that there is a very good chance the Remain campaign would simply
lose again, which would defeat the object of the exercise from
many of their perspectives.

Downing Street, however, is vehemently opposed to another
referendum, and Theresa May has said it would be “a gross
betrayal of our democracy.” A Conservative government would
almost certainly never legislate for such an outcome. The party
would be eviscerated at the polls and its leader ousted
immediately.

But there’s a reasonable chance that Labour could be in power
before March next year. By far the most likely route to a second
referendum would be through a Labour government which has
explicitly kept the option of supporting it on the table, despite
Jeremy Corbyn’s personal reluctance to support one.

5. Voting for May’s deal a second time



theresa may cabinet back Brexit deal
Theresa
May

Getty


Another scenario which could see disaster averted is a second
vote on the deal. Theresa May — or whoever succeeds her after
being forced out — could put the current deal, or a marginally
renegotiated one, before parliament a second time. Faced with the
prospect of a terrifying no-deal or another referendum, or
general election, it remains possible that sceptical MPs could be
cajoled into supporting it. However, such a turnaround would be
dependent on the first vote being relatively close. If May loses
the vote on her deal by a large margin, as it currently seems
feasible that she will, then it will be much harder to persuade
MPs who rejected it the first time, to risk the wrath of their
supporters by going into the voting lobbies to support her deal a
second time.

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