Well the date has finally been set. Tuesday 11th December. Set your calendars. The Atlas Christmas Party is in the diary.
Oh, you thought I was talking about something else? That’s a little awkward!
Of course, the 11th December is also the date for the so-called ‘meaningful vote.’ At around 7pm MPs will vote on whether to approve Theresa May’s deal.
And then? Well that is a matter of considerable debate. This blog will attempt to assess what could come next.
So the vote?
Well if you take MPs at their word, the vote will be lost. 100 Tory MPs have said they will vote against the deal. And all the opposition parties have said they will vote against the deal. This means the Prime Minister (PM) does not have the votes.
Then the fun and games could really begin. Here are some potential options on what could follow:
The Prime Minister is removed
The rumour mill will go into hyperdrive if the Government lose the meaningful vote. Prepare for the prominent opinion that the Prime Minister and/or the Government is finished.
One thing you will hear a lot about is No Confidence Votes. Now, crucially a No Confidence Vote from Parliament is different to a No Confidence Vote from the Conservative Party. First let’s begin with a No Confidence Vote from Parliament. This requires a majority of MPs to vote they have no confidence in the Government. If this vote was lost, the Government would collapse, triggering a General Election. This is very rare in UK politics.
But the possibility has been enhanced by Labour Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer suggesting it is “inevitable Labour will press no confidence vote if the vote is lost.” The DUP, whose votes the Government rely on are also refusing to confirm whether they would back the Government. This would make the numbers very tight and the end result unpredictable.
Ok, so now a No-Confidence Vote from the Conservative Party. This has no legal impact on the Government and is a direct vote against the leader of the party. This is a simple majority vote but only Conservative MPs can take part. Should the Prime Minister lose she would be forced to resign. To trigger this, 48 Conservative MPs need to request a vote by submitting a letter (yes an actual printed letter). Rebels have launched efforts to reach this threshold before, but have failed. Following ‘the meaningful vote’ we expect there will be another sustained attempt. And in a more febrile mood the rebels stand a greater chance. Yet, the struggle to date to even reach 48 letters means their ability to marshal the 160 or so votes to carry a ‘no confidence’ challenge against the Theresa May is far from certain.
Our view is that the PM suffers a greater threat from the House than from her own party.
2. The Prime Minister is sent back to Brussels
After the vote the PM will be summoned to the despatch box. The mood of the House will dictate what happens next. One option could be they instruct the Government to negotiate a new deal with Brussels. That is of course assuming Brussels is in any mood to renegotiate. Some have argued that the only way to win further concessions from the EU is to show that Parliament will not accept their current offer. We’re not so sure.
What direction further UK-EU Brexit talks take would have to be focused on what deal could secure the support of the House as the new deal would have to be put to yet another Parliamentary vote.
To this end, cross-party talks have begun over the so-called Norway plus option. This is viewed as a softer Brexit. This angers Eurosceptics as the UK would have to retain free movement but would be more attractive to opposition MPs. It is feasible to see a deal of this kind gaining a majority in the House after a first vote is lost.
Another option is a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit or a negotiated ‘No-Deal.’ Legally, if the vote is lost and no further legislation is passed this is where we are heading. This would please the Brexiteer wing but would worry many more in Parliament. We believe Parliament will find a way to stop this.
Our (current) view is that Norway plus is more likely than no-deal. But ask us again next week!
3. Another Vote
Could the Government have to go back to the people? A General Election? Another referendum?
Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, a General Election (Labour’s preferred option) is hard to achieve without the support of the Government. A General Election could be triggered by the Government losing a vote of no confidence (as mentioned earlier). However, even in a divided Conservative Party, one thing that unites them is not wanting a General Election. Faced with the risk of Corbyn taking the reins in Number Ten, the tories will fight hard to avoid one.
On Monday, a petition carrying almost 1.5 million requesting a ‘people’s vote’ was delivered to Parliament. Despite the PM refusing to consider this option, momentum is growing. Former Universities Minister Sam Gyimah is the latest to voice his support. There is a debate over how you could turn any majority into the House into legislation to permit a second referendum though. Especially with a looming deadline and an unsupportive Government.
Our view is that the Government does not want to go back to the people. But in a Parliamentary stalemate this might be the last option standing.
Truthfully, no-one knows how this ends. There has been a lot of talk about a constitutional crisis. But, we just don’t know. We have never been here before. We are in uncharted territory.
So, as none of us are any the wiser, why not like us go out and enjoy the festivities. The matter of whether we still have a Government can always wait until the next morning!
We will leave you with the wisdom of BBC reporter Chris Mason, who when asked what could happen next candidly replied “I haven’t got the foggiest.” Now there is a man who speaks for the nation.