What exactly is tonight’s vote about?
The important thing to remember about tonight’s proceedings is that this is not a debate about whether we should or should not leave without a deal – it is essentially a debate about whether or not we should have a vote about whether or not to leave without a deal. Not only that, tonight there will be two votes – the first is on whether to end the motion, the second is on the motion itself. It is the second one you should keep an eye on. Confusing, right?
Should those against a no deal win the vote tonight they can take control of the parliamentary agenda tomorrow and bring about the vote to decide on parliament’s position on a no-deal Brexit.
Tonight, is more about giving the chance to block a no deal rather than formally blocking it. Of course, those that back the motion tonight would likely back the motion tomorrow so in reality it will probably show the direction in which the House of Commons will go which is why tonight’s vote is so momentous.
Earlier this evening, the Prime Minister was dealt a blow that will carry more than just mathematical pain for the PM. Phillip Lee strode across the floor of the house from the government benches to the opposition bench to sit with the Liberal Democrats. This, crucially, left the government with no working majority – i.e. there are more MPs against the government, than for the government. Regardless of what the outcome of tonight’s vote is, this makes an election far more likely.
What happens if the government win?
Theoretically, not a lot may change. The government can carry on as it was, with control of the agenda as it wants meaning they could push on more or less as they planned. The PM threatened an election if he lost tonight’s vote, one could therefore decide that he will not call one if he won.
However, the defection of Dr Phillip Lee makes it now more likely that there will be an election anyway, as no working majority is important both practically and symbolically for any government, let alone a government in such extraordinary times as these.
What happens if the government lose?
This is the far more likely outcome. The numbers suggest that the government will lose the vote – but remember, that’s still not certain.
Well the government has said that any MPs who rebel tonight (whether they win or lose) will face deselection as an MP – essentially, they will not be able to stand for the Conservative party in the next election, ending their career as Conservative MPs. Unusually though, there are some huge names on the list of rebels, and as a result those at risk of deselection. These include two ex-chancellors (including Runneymede and Weybridge MP, Phillip Hammond), a range of ministers many of whom were in the cabinet a matter of weeks ago, and the grandson of Winston Churchill – that one may hurt Mr Johnson especially as Churchill is his political idol.
This bill needs to go through the Lords too don’t forget. There could still be a way to quash it in there. Those on Mr Johnson’s side have already said they may look to pursue such strategies as filibustering to take up the time for debate and essentially reject it. Ultimately though it is unlikely, given the current make-up and attitudes of the Lord’s to a no-deal, to be held up and will likely pass – but, again, this is not certain.
Should it pass through the Lord’s, MPs will have control of the agenda for tomorrow and can then bring about their vote on a no-deal Brexit, but as discussed, that would likely go their way.
The government would likely table the motion for their threatened election tomorrow morning, but even then, an election is not a certainty. The commons may not want an election on the Prime Ministers terms, they may see it better to force through their way over a government with no majority than risk an election. Two thirds of MPs must vote for an early election before it can be called, Jeremy Corbyn has been calling for one for a while now but other MPs, including some of his own, say it’s better to stop a no-deal, resolve the issue of Brexit (second referendum/get a deal/whatever may bring it to a conclusion) and then have an election. Ultimately though, Mr Corbyn is unlikely to oppose an election given he’s been vocalising for one for a while now, and most on the opposition benches would likely back him. Should it come to pass, it would ultimately be an election on Brexit. Mr Johnson believes he would win, but as his predecessor found out, an election is always a gamble.
Despite all the uncertainty we can be sure that, whatever goes on, tonight will be momentous and historic for one reason or another and we will likely see a general election very soon. We’re in profoundly uncharted waters, things are changing by the hour and where we’ll be in 24 hours’ time remains to be seen. Sit up and pay attention, because if you blink you might miss something vital.