Long Read on Brexit: Election looming as May fails to break the deadlock

What’s Going On Here?

Since “Brexit day” it appears that a general election may be the only way to resolve the deadlock as MPs reject all 8 Brexit options and reject the PM’s deal for a third time.

What happened on Wednesday?

Wednesday was a fast-paced and eventful day in regards to Brexit. The day began with Theresa May making some headway in convincing Conservative MPs to back her deal. Further, a number of high profile MPs who were previously against her deal either said that they will back it (which was the position of Boris Johnson).

May then met with the DUP (the Northern Irish party) to discuss whether its 10 MPs would back her deal. This did not go as planned as DUP leader Arlene Foster publicly announced that her party would not back the deal in its current form.

May then announced to her own MPs that she would stand down as leader once a Brexit deal was passed.

In the evening, MPs passed into law the extension that May had agreed with the EU before moving on to vote on the Brexit options. In short, MPs rejected every possible option, leaving it unclear as to the possible ways forward.

After voting on a variety of options, three plans remain alive.

  1. Second referendum – This plan received the most votes in favour, and remains a possibility. The difficulty is that it has more critics, and may be unable to secure a majority at all.

  2. Customs Union – This plan would accept the Withdrawal Agreement and require the government to negotiate membership of the customs union as part of the future relationship. The customs union would withdraw the UK from some aspects of the EU while maintaining access to trade and freedom of movement. The issue with this plan is that it is vague.

  3. Common Market 2.0 – This plan is often referred to as “Norway plus”. It would require the UK to join the EEA, which would remove the UK from many aspects of the EU while maintaining trade access and freedom of movement (with some limitations). The UK would also be able to sign trade deals with other countries. This is the most likely compromise to emerge if any can.

What happened on Friday?

Theresa May brought back her deal for the third time in Parliament. May was able to get around a ruling by the speaker that the same motion could not be brought before Parliament multiple times without substantial changes. This was achieved by holding a vote only on the Withdrawal Agreement (which sets out the terms on which the UK leaves the EU, the terms of the transition period and the details of the Northern Irish backstop) and not on the political declaration (which sets out the joint UK and EU vision for the future relationship to be negotiated during the transition period). This was chosen as by passing the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK would qualify for the longer extension approved by the EU, avoiding no deal on April 12th.

Parliament again rejected the deal, this time by a margin of 58 (a much smaller gap than before). The smaller margin is due to the fact that May was able to use the results of the indicative votes in order to gain leverage over MPs. This approach was largely successful as the many Conservative MPs switched to back the deal. However, the shortcomings of this approach can be seen in the results, as many MPs opposed the deal, having felt alienated by May’s approach.

What happens now?

Under the terms of the extension agreed with the EU, the UK accept the deal or find a new course of action by April 10th. If no outcome is agreed, then the UK would potentially leave without a deal on the 12th of April. Theresa May has suggested that the deal might be brought back again next week for one final push to reach a compromise before looking more seriously at a possible change in approach. To this end, May is bringing her deal back for a fourth time today.

Today there will also be a second set of indicative votes. Some government ministers have hinted that there could be a ranked vote to find the most popular choice, which could then be put into a head-to-head vote with May’s deal.

If May’s deal is rejected and MPs cannot find a majority for any alternative, then there is the possibility of a general election. This would give May the chance to regain the Parliamentary majority she lost in the 2017 election, and potentially a majority for her deal to pass. A new Parliament may also be able to come to a compromise and find a new way forward. However, another general election is a risky political move and wouldn’t necessarily secure a majority government.

As things stand in the polls (as collated by Britain Elects at the time of writing) are as follows:

Conservatives – 36.6%
Labour – 34%
Lib Dems – 9.2%
UKIP – 6.9%
Green – 4.7%

On these figures, it is possible that May could secure a Parliamentary majority. But polling is not an exact science, and opinion can change during a campaign.

Report written by Harry B.

If you're interested in writing for LittleLaw, click here for more information