Theresa May is gambling on a third vote on her deal today amid claims another defeat will trigger a snap general election within weeks.
The Prime Minister has told MPs today is their last chance to lock in Brexit on May 22 – warning refusal will throw Brexit into even deeper crisis.
The vote is being held because the EU Council decision on postponing Brexit said leaving with the current deal on May 22 could only happen if it is agreed by today. If MPs vote Yes this plan is on track.
Crucially it is not a repeat of the two ‘meaningful votes’ Mrs May has already lost by landslide because the Government has set aside the political declaration on the future UK-EU relationship.
The PM hopes this will persuade Labour MPs to back it as the party has accepted the divorce deal – but she is set to be disappointed. She needs 75 more votes than she got on March 12 to win.
Looming over today’s debate and vote is a new forecast of what might happen in a snap election by polling expert Sir John Curtice. Ministers have warned an election could be the only answer in a new defeat.
But Sir John’s latest numbers suggest a near identical Commons would be returned – accept with slightly weaker Tory and Labour parties in a more hung parliament.
The figures suggest even the dramatic step of a new general election would do little to break the stalemate.
With mounting questions this is MailOnline’s guide to what might happen next:
Sir John Curitce’s latest numbers suggest a near identical Commons would be returned – accept with slightly weaker Tory and Labour parties in a more hung parliament
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox opened today’s debate with Prime Minister Theresa May looking on behind him
What is happening today?
Theresa May is gambling on a third vote on her deal but without the political declaration on what the future UK-EU relationship might look like. It is not a vote to ratify the deal – something that she has lost twice by a landslide – but is intended to keep alive Brexit on May 22.
This is because EU leaders last week said May 22 could happen if the withdrawal agreement – the legally binding divorce treaty – had to be agreed by MPs by today for that date to stand.
MPs will vote at 2.30pm today. The Government is hoping the symbolism of holding a vote on March 29, which was supposed to be exit day, and the threat of losing exit on May 22 is enough to swing votes.
What would losing today mean?
At last week’s EU Council, Brussels said if the deal passed Brexit could happen on May 22. If it doesn’t, Britain is on track for No Deal on April 12.
Before that happens, an emergency summit will almost certainly be called. Britain can use this to ask for a longer delay to Brexit – perhaps to the end of the year or even longer.
Mrs May has told MPs a long delay will mean holding European Parliament elections on May 22.
What happens if she wins?
The Government says it locks in the possibility of Brexit on May 22, subject to the deal being properly ratified . Crucially today’s vote is not a full-blown ‘meaningful vote’ meaning there still has to be an approval vote as well as agreement of the laws needed to implement the deal.
This almost certainly means new negotiations with the EU about the political declaration on what the future UK-EU relationship should look like – the document that is not being voted on today.
What does she need to win?
After losing by 149 in the second meaningful vote on March 12, Mrs May needs 75 extra votes.
If the DUP vote No as they have said, she needs every Tory rebel to return or win over Labour MPs instead. More than 50 Tories are still declared against – suggesting defeat up of up to 100 votes.
What happened in the lead up to the debate?
On Wednesday night, Prime Minister Theresa May promised her party she will resign if her deal passes so a Brexiteer can try to win No 10 before UK-EU trade talks start.
In the Commons, rebel MPs seized the agenda to stage indicative votes on Brexit alternatives. All eight proposals were defeated on Wednesdayt.
If the deal fails, will May go for a long extension or No Deal?
Nobody knows for certain. The Prime Minister has publicly ruled out personally going for a long extension but also admitted Parliament will rule out No Deal.
Will May resign if her deal fails again?
Again, nobody knows for sure. Wednesday night’s announcement was contingent on the deal passing.
In practice, is drained Mrs May of all remaining political capital. Most in Westminster think her Premiership is over within weeks at the latest.
What is clear is there is already a fight underway for the Tory leadership.
Polls since the 2017 general election show the two main parties tied close together – suggesting a similar result to last time is very likely
Will Parliament hold more votes on alternatives?
Probably. Despite rejecting eight plans on Wednesday, rebel MPs already have control of the agenda on Monday and plan to hold more votes on the best supported options.
In the first round, these were a second referendum and a permanent UK-EU customs union.
There has been discussion of forcing a majority by tearing up Commons rules to create some kind of alternative vote division – but this has never been done and MPs would have to vote to allow it to happen at all.
Does is all mean there will be an election?
Probably, at some point. The Commons is deadlocked and the Government has no functional majority. While the Fixed Term Parliaments Act means the Government can stumble on, it will become increasingly powerless.
Would May lead the Tories into an early election?
Unlikely. Having admitted to her party she would go if the deal passes, Mrs May’s political career is doomed.
While there is no procedural way to remove her, a withdrawal of political support from the Cabinet or Tory HQ would probably finish her even if she wanted to stay.
How is an election called? When would it be?
Because of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act passed by the coalition, the Prime Minister can no longer simply ask the Queen to dissolve the Commons and call an election. There are two procedures instead.
First – and this is what happened in 2017 – the Government can table a motion in the Commons calling for an early election. Crucially, this can only pass with a two-thirds majority of MPs – meaning either of the main parties can block it.
Second an election is called if the Government loses a vote of no confidence and no new administration can be built within 14 days.
In practice, this is can only happen if Tory rebels vote with Mr Corbyn – a move that would end the career of any Conservative MP who took the step.
An election takes a bare minimum of five weeks from start to finish and it would take a week or two to get to the shut down of Parliament, known as dissolution – putting the earliest possible polling day around mid to late May.
If the Tories hold a leadership election first it probably pushes any election out to late June at the earliest.
Why do people say there has to be an election?
The question of whether to call an election finally reached the Cabinet this week.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay warned the rejection of Mrs May’s deal would set in train a series of events that will lead to a softer Brexit – meaning an election because so many MPs will have to break manifesto promises.
Last night’s Commons vote to seize control of Brexit from ministers will only fuel the demands.
Labour has been calling for a new vote for months, insisting the Government has failed to deliver Brexit.
Mr Corbyn called a vote of no confidence in the Government in January insisting the failure of the first meaningful vote showed Mrs May’s administration was doomed. He lost but the calls did not go away.
Brexiteers have joined the demands in recent days as Parliament wrestles with Brexit and amid fears among hardliners promises made by both main parties at the last election will be broken – specifically on leaving the Customs Union and Single Market.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen wants Mrs May replaced with a Brexiteer. He believes it would push Remain Tories out of the party and then allow a snap election with more Eurosceptic candidates wearing blue rosettes.
At the same time people’s views on whether Brexit is a good idea have not dramatically shifted. Remain has generally been narrowly ahead
What might happen?
Both main parties will have to write a manifesto – including a position on Brexit. Both parties are deeply split – in many cases between individual MPs and their local activists.
Under Mrs May, the Tories presumably try to start with the deal. But it is loathed by dozens of current Tory MPs who want a harder Brexit and hated even more by grassroots Tory members.
Shifting Tory policy on Brexit to the right would alienate the majority of current MPs who voted to Remain.
Labour has similar splits. Many of Labour’s MPs and activists want Mr Corbyn to commit to putting Brexit to a second referendum – most with a view to cancelling it.
Mr Corbyn is a veteran Eurosceptic and millions of people who voted Leave in 2016 backed Labour in 2017.
The splits set the stage for a bitter and chaotic election. The outcome is highly unpredictable – the Tories start in front but are probably more divided on the main question facing the country.
Labour is behind but knows it made dramatic gains in the polls in the last election with its promises of vastly higher public spending.
Neither side can forecast what impact new political forces might wield over the election or how any public anger over the Brexit stalemate could play out.
It could swing the result in favour of one of the main parties or a new force.
Or an election campaign that takes months, costs millions of pounds could still end up in a hung Parliament and continued stalemate. This is the current forecast by polling expert Sir John Curtice.