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  2. Brexit
19 March 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 12:01pm

Without a third meaningful vote, are we headed for a no-deal Brexit or no Brexit?

By Stephen Bush

Erskine May beats Theresa May: John Bercow has announced he will prevent the Prime Minister from holding a third meaningful vote, citing the rule that parliament should not be asked to decide upon the same question in a single session.

The Speaker has said that barring “substantial” change – though exactly what “substantial” means in this context is unclear – there will not be another meaningful vote.

How unprecedented is it? Not at all. As far as parliamentary procedure and precedent go, it is there in black and white in the pages of Erskine May and Bercow’s decision is entirely in keeping with those rules.

Does it matter? Sort of. Should MPs decide that they want another meaningful vote they can get one through a paving motion – that is to say, they can essentially vote that they’d like to vote. If there is a majority to pass the meaningful vote on the third time of asking there will, of course, be a majority to hold the meaningful vote for a third time.

But what it changes is the assumption that a lot of people – myself included – had was that passing the meaningful vote was going to require not only a third meaningful vote (when the majority of Conservative Brexiteers bar the core of 20 or so unregenerate opponents of the accord would fall into line) but a fourth, too (when the minority of Labour MPs who want neither single market membership nor a second referendum would get the deal over the line).

So a lot depends on how plausible that timeline sounded to you. If it looks implausible, convoluted and requiring far too many moving parts, then Bercow’s decision doesn’t matter. It brings forward, rather than changes, the moment when MPs have to confront the reality that if they don’t want May’s deal they will have to choose something else to go in its place.

What might that be? Well, the legal default – still – is a no-deal exit, the one Brexit outcome that MPs have managed to pass into law. But a consistent majority of MPs have voted against that that, and most people still assume that parliament will find any means necessary to prevent a no-deal exit. Whether that means is the soft exit favoured by the Common Market 2.0 group or a second referendum is unclear. Neither has a definite path to a majority and a second referendum visibly doesn’t have a path at all at the present moment.

It comes back to the difficulty of working out what will happen next. All of the options look implausible, convoluted and require far too many moving parts to possibly happen. But something has to happen, which means that one of the outcomes that currently looks impossible – whether that be no deal, May’s deal, Norway or no Brexit – will have to happen.

And the answer to that won’t be found in the pages of Erskine May.

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