Theresa May’s deal has been approved by the EU27 but now the difficult part begins. No.10 must work out a way to get the EU withdrawal agreement through the Commons. Given that the number of Tory MPs who have said they won’t support it is past the 80 mark (see the full list here), that looks no easy task. A vote is mooted for Tuesday 11th December.
So, given that Plan A looks rather optimistic, what are the alternatives? No-one – not even those at No.10 – are entirely certain what would happen if the deal is voted down. However, here are the main scenarios to expect come the vote:
MPs back May’s deal on first vote
At present, this seems an unlikely option. However, if No.10’s PR offensive pays off then a combination of Labour rebels and Tory Brexiteers backing down and voting for the deal would get May over the line. The EU withdrawal agreement would be passed and attention would soon turn to getting through all the accompanying legislation. Given that the DUP have made clear they have no plans to back the deal and would reconsider the confidence and supply agreement if it is passed, May’s legislative headache shows no sign of letting up even in No.10’s best case scenario.
May’s deal goes to a second Commons vote – market pressure wins
On first attempt, Theresa May’s Brexit deal doesn’t pass through the Commons – falling short by around 50 votes or less. Given that the numbers are fairly small, the Prime Minister vows to bring it back one more time for a second vote. At the EU Council meeting the day after the first vote, May asks for ‘clarifications’ on a number of issues in the hope this will either be enough to convince wavering MPs or at least give these MPs cover to vote for it. A drop in the pound or market response to the first vote failing could be enough to get May over the line. This is being talked up as the TARP plan in government – in a nod to the market panic which helped the US government push its 2008 bank bailout through Congress.
Deal tanks – no deal Brexit
Theresa May’s Brexit deal is voted down by MPs by a majority of over 70 (or by No.10’s estimate over 100). At this point, the Prime Minister is unable to reasonably argue that her Brexit plan has a hope of passing on a second or third attempt. Having staked so much on this Brexit plan, Theresa May is unable to advocate a second option. No deal planning is activated but MPs have lost faith in her ability to lead. A no confidence vote is triggered by Tory MPs and a leadership contest follows. Meanwhile, the Brexit clock ticks and ‘no deal’ looks increasingly likely. There are, however, efforts by cross-party MPs to suspend Article 50 or opt for a softer Brexit in order to avoid WTO term exit. This is also the point when Labour could try and bring about an early election but that relies on Tory MPs voting for it which remains unlikely given that the issue is cross party and Tories cannot agree amongst themselves.
EEA membership – a softer Brexit plan
Theresa May’s Brexit deal is voted down and there is no consensus on an alternative plan. A number of cabinet ministers advocate for a stay in the EEA – the Norway model – as a safe landing place for the time-being. This soft Brexit would likely have support of Labour MPs and potentially the DUP so long as Northern Ireland is treated the same as the rest of the UK. In order to advocate this option, someone other than Theresa May would most likely need to be in place – given that it would involve admitting the negotiations had gone wrong and supporting the continuation of freedom of movement at least in the short term.
Theresa May’s deal fails to pass the first time round – and potentially even the second. A chunk of cross-party MPs with ties to the People’s Vote campaign approach No 10 with a proposition: ‘We’ll vote for this if you adopt our amendment calling for a vote on the final deal’. Desperate for a way to break the Brexit deadlock, May adds an amendment saying that she will take her deal to a national vote – the choice being her deal or Remain. Brexiteers try to get their own version of Leave on the ballot paper. Would Brussels play ball? The EU have made no secret of the fact they are open to the UK cancelling Brexit.