MPs will begin five days of debates later on Tuesday ahead of a meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal – the most important parliamentary decision in decades.
The Prime Minister will start the debate knowing she faces an uphill task in convincing enough members of her own party, let alone the opposition, to vote it through.
Debates will take place on December 4, 5 and 6 this week, and December 10 and 11 next week, with up to eight hours allotted to it each day.
A minister, probably Mrs May, will move a motion on Tuesday in support of the agreement.
If that is passed on December 11 it will allow the Government to introduce the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill to the Commons either before Christmas or after recess in January.
But what happens if it fails? Here we look at what could happen if her Withdrawal Agreement is rejected by the Commons:
– Try again
The European Union has been adamant this is a take it or leave it deal that cannot be renegotiated. But if faced with the threat of a calamitous no-deal Brexit and following a narrow Commons defeat, Mrs May might fancy testing their resolve and seeing if she can get some cosmetic changes to appease enough MPs to win a second vote.
– Theresa May quits
Having made it this far and taken brickbats from all sides for months, and repeated assertions she will not quit, it seems unlikely. But if the defeat is heavy enough it cannot be totally ruled out. However…
– Backbench rebellion
Hardline Tory Brexiteers may have failed to muster the sending of enough letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister to backbench supremo Sir Graham Brady a fortnight ago and trigger a leadership battle but they are not the only unhappy ones and once the vote is over other players could make a move.
– Second referendum
Theresa May has said no, Labour say yes but only if they do not get a General Election. It would possibly require an extension of Article 50 to delay Brexit, with Tory former education secretary Justine Greening saying on Thursday it could logistically be held by the end of May.
– Snap General Election
The ultimate gamble for the Prime Minister, who has to hope that voters will, via the ballot box, back her plan. Labour has long called for an election believing that, after the 2017 election resulted in a hung parliament, it has the headway.
– Labour try to force an election
Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act the Opposition would have to win a vote of no confidence in the PM in the Commons and then hope the Conservatives could put together a Government which could win a second vote of no confidence, in which case a General Election would be called. It would mean the DUP and a clutch of Tory rebels would have to side with Jeremy Corbyn, which seems unlikely.
– No-deal Brexit
The warnings from institutions such as the Bank of England, the CBI, and the Government’s own technical papers suggest the impact of leaving without a deal on March 29 could be calamitous – though some Brexiteers say much of this is an exaggeration. But if everything else fails it’s possible that it could happen.