What exactly will MPs vote on? What changes if the government loses? And is there any guarantee that the vote will be “meaningful” at all? Your ultimate guide to a Very Important Moment in parliament, in 12 stepsby Tom Clark / October 21, 2018 / Leave a comment
For months on end, the whole of British politics has been gearing up for one almighty crunch: the moment when parliament gives a thumbs up—or a thumbs down—to the Brexit deal.
Every politician and journalist knows that this will be a Very Important Moment, which could seal the fate of the prime minister, her government and perhaps the country too. Almost nobody, however, seems to know what is really involved in the so-called “meaningful vote”—what, exactly, will MPs vote on? Who, if anyone, will be in charge of the process? What actually changes if the government loses? And is there any guarantee that the vote will be “meaningful” at all? As a sense of the prime minister losing her grip on Westminster takes hold, this weekend there have been reports of jittery Conservative MPs beginning to get into active discussions about what gets voted on if and when the government’s plan goes down.
Never before has quite so much turned on arcane points of parliamentary procedure. So Prospect has spoken to those rare constitutional whizzes that understand this stuff, including people who have been at the heart of fraught procedural decisions in parliament in the past, to give you a definitive guide to the meaning of “meaningful.”
OK, so we never stop hearing about a “meaningful vote” on the Brexit deal. But what is it, and where did it come from?
For all the Brexit brinkmanship, thus far the government has only lost two votes in total and only one truly significant vote on the floor of the Commons. This came last December, when former attorney general Dominic Grieve pushed an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill which stipulated that the eventual Withdrawal Agreement (as negotiated with the EU) could only be implemented once parliament had approved the deal in specific ways.
Further flesh was added to the bones of the “meaningful vote” over the Summer. Although various amendments were overturned, withdrawn or seen off, the government eventually introduced its own which specified (in section 13 of the EU Withdrawal Act) that it cannot ratify the WA until the Commons has voted to approve this immediate “divorce agreement,” and also (and just as important) a political declaration on the outline of the UK’s future relations with the EU. (The latter might, for example, specify the rough parameters…