Nine scenarios: what happens next if Mrs May loses the vote on Tuesday
It is the Brexit question on everyone’s lips. With Theresa May’s withdrawal plan doomed to failure at Tuesday’s meaningful vote, what happens next in the chaos that is Britain’s departure from the EU? With no consensus in Parliament for any alternative, we present nine possible scenarios in a bid to understand all the options available to the Government in the seemingly inevitable event of a mass rebellion in three days’ time.
1. Emergency EU summit
Seven ministerial resignations down since the deal was agreed, and with outright mutiny brewing on the backbenches, Mrs May could have no choice but to call a last-minute meeting with Michel Barnier in a final roll of the dice to remove the universally hated Irish backstop from the deal.
Insiders say the EU’S chief negotiator would agree to meet Mrs May, but having declared the 585-page document “the only and best possible way to organise an orderly withdrawal” it seems unlikely he’ll budge. Despite insisting the EU would do everything it could to avoid using it, Brexiteers are unconvinced. They would want Mrs May to play serious handball with Mr Barnier, telling him that a no-deal Brexit would mean a hard border in Northern Ireland, making the backstop entirely self-defeating. Likelihood: 1 out of 5.
2. The deal passes
When Jacob Rees-mogg declared last week that the Government may still win the meaningful vote by a narrow margin, many suspected he had been at the Communion wine. But as one Tory source put it: “Never underestimate the craven self-interest of the average politician and the might of the government machine.” If the deal does go through with the Irish backstop intact, the DUP is expected to withdraw its confidence-and-supply arrangement, leaving Mrs May running a minority government that will inevitably be challenged by a Labour vote of no confidence. More letters would inevitably be handed to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee, by Tories on both sides of the Brexit divide who appear united in their dissatisfaction at a deal likely to mean oblivion for them at the next election, with the latest Ipsos MORI poll revealing 62 per cent of the British public thinks it’s a bad deal. Likelihood: 2 out of 5.
3. Second vote
Mrs May’s deal is voted down and, channelling her inner David Cameron following the rebellion over Syria, she issues an immediate Dispatch Box mea culpa and flies straight to Brussels to renegotiate. She could buy time by saying she wants to wait to address leaders at the EU Council summit on Dec 13 and 14 before returning with a revised plan. Against all odds she secures concessions and with the pound tanking and markets in freefall, beleaguered backbenchers vote the amended deal through “in the national interest”. Seems unlikely, unless the backstop is removed entirely.
MPS don’t want changes to the non-binding political declaration, but to the treaty itself. Any second vote is most likely to happen before MPS break up for Christmas on Dec 20. Likelihood: 2 out of 5.
4. No-confidence vote
Labour could table a no-confidence motion whether the deal passes or fails. If it passes but she loses the DUP’S support, the Opposition can challenge her authority as the leader of a minority government, just the same as if it was voted down in triple
The certainty is that in the absence of any other action, the UK will leave the European Union on March 29 2019
figures, which would also call into question her leadership. Equally, with some Tory MPS waiting for an “acute event” to oust Mrs May, the 48-letter threshold could be reached on the Tories’ side if the vote fails, prompting a leadership challenge. Whatever happens, Mrs May’s fate lies with those 10 DUP MPS, who will have to decide what is more important: putting up with the Irish backstop or risking a Corbyn government. Likelihood: 4 out of 5.
5. Early election
If the Government is voted down following a no-confidence motion, a two-week window opens for the Tories to try to form another government under a new leader. If this cannot be done, and no new confidence motion is passed to back a new government within that period, Parliament is dissolved for a general election.
Mrs May could take a stand, calling an election and saying her deal is the foundation of the Tory manifesto, in a bid to win a popular mandate for it. But under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011, a prime minister no longer has the power to call an election at will. They have to win a Commons vote by a two-thirds majority. Few Tory MPS would risk Jeremy Corbyn having the keys to Number 10. Likelihood: 2 out of 5.
The Withdrawal Agreement is voted down, but returns for a second vote with an amendment added by Nick Boles and his pro-norway+ pals instructing the Government to join the European Economic Area (EEA), which allows non-eu members access to the single market. Although this avoids the perils of the backstop, thereby pulling Remainers and possibly the DUP onside, Brexiteers regard it as half-in-half-out purgatory that gives Britain no control over freedom of movement: most Leave voters’ red line. Labour’s front bench is also likely to reject such a deal. Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman has said: “We’ve said in relation to the Norway option that we just don’t think it works for Britain, and we’ve said that all along.” Likelihood: 3 out of 5.
7. Second referendum
The Withdrawal Agreement is voted down, but returns for a second vote with an amendment added by Dominic Grieve and his Remainiac cross-party cohort, saying they’ll only support the deal if the public is asked again. No one can agree on the questions and the markets are once again sent into freefall while Leave voters march on Parliament and possibly riot in the leafy streets of the Home Counties. Article 50 has to be suspended to allow for the five-month delay in setting up a second referendum. Looks unlikely unless Labour finally swings behind this position as a second-best option after failing to force a general election. Needs a Commons vote and there’s no majority.
Likelihood: 2 out of 5.
8. No deal
The certainty is that in the absence of any other action by Parliament or the Government, the UK will leave the European Union on March 29 2019. This is the default legal position, although ironically – given the total lack of consensus – there does appear to be a majority in the Commons against allowing this to happen. By what precise means it can be stopped is unclear. Mr Grieve’s amendment gives MPS the chance to influence what happens 21 days after the deal is voted down but it is non-binding on the Government. Most likely to happen under a new leader who would have the political capital to stand firm in the face of cliff-edge hysteria and the M20 turning into a lorry park. Likelihood: 4 out of 5.
9. No Brexit
Mrs May suffers such a historically humiliating defeat that she loses a confidence vote. Parliament is thrown into total chaos, and a cross-party group of remain MPS emerges from the carnage to form a government of national unity. A vote passes agreeing to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit until an alternative plan is decided. National humiliation ensues following a crowing press conference featuring Mssrs Barnier, Jean-claude Juncker and Donald Tusk spraying champagne over each other, Formula One style. Likelihood: 1 out of 5.