Yesterday’s Brexit vote

Yesterday evening the Prime Minister lost the meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement. This is a significant loss and the ramifications will be long felt by this Government and Parliament. If the stakes weren’t high enough before this vote, they are now astronomical.

What happens next could define British politics for a generation. There are several possible scenarios to consider now that Theresa May and the Government have lost.

Firstly, the Prime Minister will need to come back to Parliament within three days and explain to MPs what steps she intends to take. In other words, expect a statement by the PM or her Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, by close of Parliamentary business on Monday 21 January, setting out what exactly plan B will look like.

Expect an emergency EU summit to be called within days, where the PM is likely to use last night’s loss as a bargaining chip at the EU. Although the European Commission and Council have categorically explained that no further amendments will be made to the withdrawal agreement, it is likely that Mrs May will ask for even more legal certainty, clarifications or concessions around several of the contentious elements of the agreement, namely the issue around the Irish Backstop.

What about the opposition? The leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has now tabled a motion of no confidence in the Government. The PM will require a majority of 326 to win, although this number can fluctuate depending on how many MPs actually turn up and vote. Nevertheless, she only needs to win by one to avoid a General Election being called. The likelihood of this happening is slim, however. It’s unlikely that the Democratic Unionist Party, who voted against the withdrawal agreement this evening, will vote down May’s Government – indeed all signs currently, and somewhat ironically, suggest that they would not support a motion of no confidence.

Alternatively some commentators are currently suggesting that May could trigger a general election herself. This scenario is unlikely – she would need the backing of two thirds of MPs for this to happen and Conservatives are unlikely to vote for it. Even Brexit supporting Conservatives would rather the Government stayed in power, although many will be ambivalent about whether May leads it or not.

Could there now be another referendum? Several high profile MPs are working to deliver a second referendum. Given another national vote has very little support amongst MPs, commentators think that this is unlikely to happen. That said, it may now gain momentum. This withdrawal agreement, in its current form, cannot pass. The EU have said “non” to further substantive amendments so the only way forward may be to test whether the British people support the agreement or not. But even then, according to what has been said by MPs and experts thus far, it is unlikely to materialise.

Will Brexit now not happen and fade from the common lexicon? Whilst many MPs would like to see this happen, I doubt the current Government, or any Government for that matter, would be able to carry on with any credibility if it was to simply park or indefinitely delay Brexit.

From a strategic perspective, it will be important for businesses to work on the basis that Brexit will still happen, in some form.  The next week will be critical, representing one of the most frantic periods witnessed in British politics for over 50 years.

Written by Oliver Parry, Associate Director 


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