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Analysis

‘Meaningful vote’ at end of month could push Brexit to brink

by Hugo Dixon | 11.02.2019

If all the prime minister promises tomorrow is a “meaningful vote” on Brexit by the end of the month, it won’t stop her running down the clock. MPs will then have to extract more concessions on Valentine’s Day when they have their next chance to take control of the parliamentary calendar by amending her next motion on Brexit.

Theresa May is expected to tell MPs tomorrow that she needs more time for talks with the EU – and so she cannot bring a new deal to Parliament by her original deadline of February 14. She will seek to reassure them that she won’t run down the clock by promising that by the end of the month she will either bring a deal to Parliament for a so-called meaningful vote or put another motion to MPs that they can amend.

Such an assurance is not as good as it looks – but for a different reason to the one some pundits suppose. The weakness is not that May will deny MPs a meaningful vote but that she could actually hold one.

If the prime minister puts down an amendable motion on February 25, 26 or 27 – it’s not quite clear what date she will commit to – MPs will be able to stop her running down the clock. They can amend that motion and call for her to ask the EU to delay Brexit. If she refuses, they can ram through legislation forcing her to make such a request. A dozen ministers who don’t want us to crash out of the EU on March 29 without a deal might then resign to ensure there are enough votes to secure the necessary law.

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But if May proposes a meaningful vote at the end of the month, the parliamentary process will be different. If she wins the vote, she will be on the way to getting her deal through Parliament. But that seems unlikely given that she lost a similar motion last month by 230 votes and she isn’t going to have anything much better to offer MPs in a couple of weeks.

In the more likely scenario that she loses the meaningful vote, section 13 (4) of the European Withdrawal Act kicks in. This says the government has 21 days to make a statement saying what it plans to do next – and a further seven “sitting” days to bring this to a vote in the House of Commons.

If the prime minister used up all this time, we might be out of the EU before MPs would have another chance to put their foot down. She might take things right to the brink and then bring her deal back to Parliament for a third meaningful vote hoping that, in the ensuing game of chicken, enough MPs would back her deal.

We will have to see the detail of what May says tomorrow. But unless she is crystal clear that MPs will in all circumstances get a chance to stop her running down the clock, they will need to take action on Valentine’s Day. That won’t be the time to force the prime minister to delay Brexit. But it could be the moment to book a firm date in the diary towards the end of the month when they can force her to do so if need be.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

5 Responses to “‘Meaningful vote’ at end of month could push Brexit to brink”

  • Is it me or is everyone else in this country blind? British democratic processes are being blatantly misused to get an ideologically extremist programme rammed through. A programme that was spectacularly voted down recently and of which it is clear that, despite sending May back to Brussels time after time, will for previously clearly stated reasons get no compromise whatever out of the EU. There is said to be no majority for crashing out of the EU, yet it very much looks like that is what’s going to happen simply through letting time slip by and no-one appears to take action against that! Could it be that the Pro-Brexit extremist sides of the House of Commons are teaming up (who ever expected the likes of May and Corbyn to go pally indeed; eh?) and the silent majority in-between is doing what silent majorities generally do best: claim fatigue, a bad headache and be silent! My MP, John Penrose, is a lost cause: a complete and utter turncoat who is obviously defending his future post-Brexit as MP for Brexit-hurrah Weston-Super-Mare. But what about others? The way they appear to simply ignore their electorate is most surprising. Or is there really a majority pro-Brexit? In that case Britain deserves all the future trouble it is calling off on itself at present.

  • We are leaving ; there will be no second referendum. That ship could never sail as virtually the entire membership of Parliament voted ( insanely ) to send that letter only a short time ago.
    It is time to hunker down stop deluding ourselves ( as Barnier’s sidekick pointed out yesterday) and start the Rejoin movement. It needs fresh leadership from people without baggage.

    It will be a long haul

  • Reply to Peter van der Mark – “Or is there really a majority pro-Brexit? In that case Britain deserves all the future trouble it is calling off on itself at present”.

    Trouble is Mr van der Mark, It will be all Britons who will suffer, Remainers as well as Leavers.