It’s the most momentous vote of a career: Parliament is finally going to see its ‘meaningful vote’ on the negotiated EU Withdrawal Agreement take place on 15th January. And even in the complex legal maze of Brexit and unprecedented political, economic and constitutional confusion, several truths have emerged.
- At a high-level there is a small set of possible outcomes, in which the Withdrawal Agreement
- passes Parliament and is implemented, coming into force on 29th March 2019; or
- passes with amendments that neither significantly change the legal tenets nor provoke EU disagreement and comes into force on 29th March 2019; or
- is rejected outright in Parliament, giving the Government 21 days to set out its plan; or
- is rejected due to amendments that significantly change the Agreement and again, the Government has 21 days to set out its plan.
2. Given Parliamentary arithmetic, the current most likely option is that the Withdrawal Agreement its rejected outright, with the majority of opposition MPs set to reject the deal and an estimated 100 Conservative MPs who have ‘suggested they’ll vote against the deal’.
3. Following this there are several political / constitutional tools that can impact the outcome:
- No-deal: While Parliamentary arithmetic is stacked against the Withdrawal Agreement, there is no majority for no-deal either. Yesterday, 200 MPs signed a letter to Theresa May asking her to guarantee that ‘no deal’ was not a possibility. Yet this remains, ironically, the legal default, if no other option is decided upon.
- Renegotiation: Labour are targeting a General Election, followed by a renegotiation. But EU appetite for this is so low that they’ve said it is impossible. It’s this deal, no-deal or remain.
- Vote of no confidence: Opposition parties could call a vote of no confidence in the Government. This has been tried, focused on confidence in Theresa May as Prime Minister – and failed. If the Government were to lose this vote, they’d have 14 days to win a confidence vote before a General Election is automatically called. The outcome of the General Election is by no means a certainty and its outcome does not change the fact that the legal default is to leave without a deal.
- General election: This option only appears likely through a successful vote of no confidence. The Fixed-Terms Parliament Act 2011 requires two-thirds of MPs to vote to trigger an election, which would take place 25 days after the Monarch’s proclamation. This leaves very little time to negotiate or decide alternatives to the legal default of leaving the EU without a deal.
- Second referendum: So far, this has been rejected outright by both the Government and Opposition. There is however a possibility that Labour could back the idea, given around 70% of their members backed leaving the door open at the 2018 Labour Party Conference. But there are concerns about its plausibility and the UCL Constitution Unit estimates the entire process would take 22 weeks: too long to ensure the result is properly considered before ‘Brexit Day’ – 29th March. Again, this does not stop leaving without a deal being the default.
4. Apart from no deal, none of the above options guarantee leaving with a deal or remaining in the EU which are the only possible other outcomes. Practically speaking all options – bar no deal – would likely require an extension of Article 50 and potentially the repeal of legal stipulations that the UK leaves the EU on March 29.
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