Brexit vote: How a defeat for the PM next week could trigger a fresh General Election

As Parliament prepares to vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal next week, all the predictions are that she will lose. What happens next?

The government suffered three significant Brexit defeats on Tuesday. Those were three times the government line failed to attract the confidence of the House. This is more than a warning shot: the armies are surrounding Mrs May.

As Parliament prepares to vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal next week, all the predictions are that she will lose.

Of course, we don’t know what kind of offers are being made behind closed doors to get the deal through: from knighthoods to peerages, from government jobs to more dirty-handed blackmail. But if that fails to work, the government has three weeks to re-negotiate the deal.

And yet: if May loses the vote next Tuesday, she may not get a chance to renegotiate the deal. Her leadership will be in tatters. She may feel pushed to resign.

If not, her party may force her to, reaching the 48 signatures they need to trigger a leadership contest.

And then there’s what the opposition will do. Labour will know then that May – in some ways by definition – lacks the confidence of the house. This may be the time to ‘pounce’.

Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011, there are two options for calling an election:

1. If a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the whole House or without division; or

2. If a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is confirmed by the Commons within 14 days.

Labour could try and force an immediate motion of ‘no confidence’ after the Brexit vote, which only requires a simple majority of one. After that, negotiations start for a new government.

Of course, the Tories could try and stop this motion being put forward – they have a lot of sway over Parliamentary time-tabling.

But refusing to allow such a motion could force a constitutional crisis, potentially forcing the Queen to step in, as constitutional expert Professor David Howarth points out in the Times, an ‘honourable’ Prime Minister would not want to put the Queen in that position.

But even a dishonourable Prime Minister could be circumvented: the opposition could go straight to the Queen herself, putting forward a (recently re-discovered) ‘humble address’ which asks Her Majesty to pick a new government.

Again, without the backing of the DUP’s 10 MPs, it is highly unlikely Labour could form a government (the numbers don’t add up). Unless the Tories very quickly find a leader that has the confidence of the house, this makes a general election quite likely.

That in turn leads to a funny (though admittedly unlikely) scenario. In the event that May loses Tuesday’s Brexit vote, an immediate vote of no confidence would give Labour 14 days to negotiate a new government, before an election is called…

…on December 25th. Happy Christmas.

(OK, Boxing Day is more likely, but still). 

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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