What happens next if Theresa May's Brexit deal is voted down?

If MPs reject the deal, there are seven possible paths the country could go down next

December’s “meaningful vote” on Brexit will be a moment of extraordinary political drama but many at Westminster have already moved on to wondering what happens next if, as now looks highly likely, Theresa May’s deal is voted down.

There are at least seven scenarios:

May brings it back to MPs

Perhaps with a minor tweak here or there after a fresh dash to Brussels – and at the second time of asking – MPs knuckle under and vote it through.

May resigns immediately

The deal has been so closely associated with the prime minister, and is so central to her government’s purpose, that it is hard to imagine her surviving for long. After a rapid leadership contest, a different leader could then appeal to a majority in parliament, perhaps by offering a softer deal.

No-confidence proceedings

Forty-eight Conservative MPs would need to back a no-confidence vote in Theresa May to trigger a leadership contest, according to party rules.

There are two ways a contest can be triggered, most obviously if the leader of the party resigns. If they do not, 15% of Conservative MPs must write to the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories. With the party’s current crop of 317 MPs, 48 would be needed.

After David Cameron announced his resignationfive Tory MPs stood for the leadership. Unlike Labour party rules, under which candidates go to a ballot of members as long as they have the support of 15% of the party’s MPs, Conservative candidates are whittled down to a final two before party members have their say.

The ballot is based on “one member, one vote”, but in 2016 one of the final two candidates, Andrea Leadsom, withdrew from the race after a damaging interview with the Times about the fact that May did not have children. Her withdrawal meant May was made party leader without having been elected by members.

Tory backbenchers depose her

Jacob Rees-Mogg finally gets his way and there is a no-confidence vote, which the PM would be less likely to win if her deal was rejected. A new leader then tries to assemble a majority behind a tweaked deal, though time would be tight.

May calls a general election

Rumours have been swirling at Westminster for some time that May could choose to take the ultimate gamble and hope that voters would back her deal, over the heads of squabbling MPs.

Labour tries to force an election

The opposition tables a vote of no confidence in the government. Under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, if May lost – deserted by the DUP, or a clutch of her own MPs – the opposition (or a new Conservative leader) would have two weeks to form an alternative government that could win a second such confidence vote. If they were unable to do so, a general election would be triggered.

A second referendum gathers support

This is most likely if Labour makes a last-ditch decision to back it. There is no clear mechanism by which it could be triggered, but if MPs engineered a vote that demonstrated majority support for it, it would be hard for the PM to ignore.

No deal

The EU (Withdrawal) Act specifies 29 March 2019 as Brexit day. Amber Rudd has said she believes parliament would stop a no deal, but it is not immediately clear how it would do so.


Heather Stewart

The GuardianTramp

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