House of Commons By UK Parliament 2 (CC-BY-3.0)

Image By UK Parliament 2 (CC-BY-3.0)

MPs have voted down Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement by a large margin for the third time – but the question is: is it the final time?


The House of Commons voted this afternoon, by a majority of 58, to deal Mrs May's withdrawal Agreement the coup de grace. The final vote was 286 for her deal and 344 against.

This means that the Exit Day in the 2018 Withdrawal Act will now be amended to 11pm on the 12th April, in accordance with the Statutory Instrument voted through by both Houses earlier this week.

We are now therefore officially fourteen days from a WTO Brexit – unless Article 50 is either revoked or again extended within those two weeks.

Now, although MPs voted to kill the Withdrawal Agreement off for good this afternoon, whether they have actually done so, is a debatable question.

The PM lost the first meaningful vote by the largest ever margin of 230 votes and the second by the fourth largest ever of 149 votes, now it's been whittled down to 58 votes.

But having lost the vote again, Theresa May was still as combative and prickly as ever. There was no contrition or remorse, no looking for compromise.

And she said two things that caught my ear.

The first was that this process was getting to the end of what this house of commons could achieve, which is being taken as a strong hint for a general election.

The second was that MPs have been unable to come to any sort of consensus as shown by the recent indicative votes, so she would still be pressing to get to a solution, and her words were taken as a strong indicator that she may well try the shocking tactic of bringing her deal back to the house for a fourth time.

Most probably within the next two weeks that she now has available to her.

So I suspect she will be off to Brussels again to point at how she's managed to break down the resistance and that she might succeed in the next dozen days or so, if they were to throw her a bone.

And you know that's not what I meant.

But to spell it out, if they were able to offer her a more binding sort of assurance on the Irish Backstop, it might help swing it.

The trouble for her is, that if she is unable to get anything out of the Eurocrats, how will she fudge her deal next time to make it sufficiently amended from this time to enable it to pass the Bercow test of it being substantially different?

Put some pictures in it maybe? Actually if she did that, more MPs might actually read it.

Now, most of the other options that the MPs have been debating on and voting for or against over the recent past, require a lengthy extension of the Article 50 process.

And, were this to be sought, it is clear that the EU would only countenance that, if the UK declares before the 12th of April that it is going to hold MEP elections.

As I understand it, enough of the European Parliament MEP election legislation remains in place in the UK for us to do that. But according to one commentator on the Daily Politics show today, to trigger such an election would require a statutory instrument to be laid before parliament and voted through in very short order.

And given the recent pronouncements by the PM I have to wonder if that would ever occur. Or if it did it would be done very late and may even require the UK to hold elections on the weekend instead of on the traditional day of Thursday.

I think it far more likely that attempts will be made to find a legal botch to get round that election requirement. Because to hold those elections would basically prove that Brexit was over.

It would be the death knell for the careers of many, many MPs. But the EU Commission has made its own position quite clear on this – and that is we must hold EU elections if we're still in the bloc on the 23rd to the 26th of May.

Finally, I want to leave you with a thought.

At 11 pm tonight the country could have been facing the certain future of being outside the European Union having left on WTO terms. Able to trade with the world and sort out our own way ahead.

All we have now is another two weeks of uncertainty and another two weeks of paying into the Brussels coffers. And another two weeks of MPs rerunning the same old arguments that have been raging since the 2016 Referendum was called.

When oh when are our politicians going to obey the will of the people and just leave the European Union!

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