Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement has no hope of passing. So why is she bringing it back?

Is an election coming?

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The meaningful vote is back! Or at least, back in a rebranded form. MPs will be given a third vote on the withdrawal agreement after the government opted to split Theresa May’s negotiated accord with the European Union into its two separate components: the withdrawal agreement, which is limited to the terms of the United Kingdom’s divorce from the European Union; and the political declaration, which covers in vague outline the final free trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

In essence, the withdrawal agreement is like the contract signed between a football team and a star striker, while the political declaration is like the accompanying press release stating that the player in question hopes to lead the club to glittering success. The promises in the contract are certain to be enacted; whatever is in the press release might never materialise.

Splitting the two allows the government to get around the Speaker’s ruling that, having brought the withdrawal agreement and political declaration to a vote once, they cannot do so a second time under the rules of the House. (In between the first and second votes, the government obtained some minor legal concessions on aspects of the deal.)

But whether the two are split or voted on together, the prospects of passing the withdrawal agreement are remote. Although some committed pro-Brexit opponents of May’s deal in the Conservative Party are likely to back it this time around, the eight Tory MPs who want a second referendum are certain to vote against it, as are the DUP. There are not sufficient numbers of Labour MPs to make up the difference, meaning the deal will not be voted through.

So why is May doing it? One minister suggests that the growing chatter about an early election is part of why. While the withdrawal agreement is not going to win a parliamentary majority, it is going to win a majority of the majority party – potentially allowing the Conservative party to pivot to running on a Brexit platform of backing the accord.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.