It is occasionally said that politics is like “Hollywood for ugly people”. Brushing past the unpleasant and irrelevant focus on aesthetics in that statement, it is fair to note that Westminster and Tinseltown do at least have one thing in common – they love a sequel. This afternoon brings us Meaningful Vote 3 – This Time It’s Slightly Different. Theresa May, having taken to heart John Bercow’s message from the Speaker’s chair – essentially, that he would not allow the same bill to be voted on a third time, has had a cunning plan.
This afternoon’s vote, then, is strictly on the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the European Union, without the accompanying Political Declaration. This means… well, not very much, as these things go. Both the Agreement and the Declaration have to pass the House of Commons before things can move on to the next stage and Brexit can be said to have been secured. All that today’s vote would mean, if it passes, is that the UK secures a delay in the Brexit date, until the 22nd of May.
So it’s a split sequel – very Hollywood!
Yes, just like Deathly Hallows, the Hunger Games and that Twilight one, the big Brexit vote will come in two parts, and this vote on the Withdrawal Agreement is widely deemed to have a better chance of passing than the previous two attempts, which were defeated by 230 and 149 votes respectively. Eagle-eyed bettors may have noted that those are two pretty crushing defeats, and so a “better chance” still might mean “on a hiding to nothing”.
However, May has had some good news with the confirmation that former Foreign Secretary, Brexit architect and noisy self-publicist Boris Johnson will be voting for the deal he previously has claimed would turn the UK into a “slave state”. It may also win the backing of arch-Eurosceptic Jacob Rees Mogg, although he has adopted so many positions on the vote this week that there’s every chance he’ll tie himself in so many knots that he just walks into the wall dividing the “Yes” and “No” lobbies.
The bookies are certainly unconvinced that May’s latest gambit will secure enough support for the vote. A majority for “No” can be backed at ⅙ with William Hill as of this moment, with odds of 7/2 on “Yes”. With that said, we’d consider it worth having a small punt on “Yes” – last-minute concessions have delivered surprising results before, and when it comes to Brexit, much stranger things have happened than a late turn in the voting.
How many votes does the agreement need to pass?
Whatever hip-hop maestros De La Soul may have told you, three is not the magic number where this vote is concerned. In all likelihood, the total we’re looking for is closer to 314. Give or take a few abstentions, that is the number that will be required for the vote to pass. On Meaningful Vote #1, 202 MPs voted Yes. On the second vote, that number had risen to 242. May needs, as a conservative estimate (pun not intended), to have won over at least 70 MPs – a task that she sought to achieve by offering to resign her Premiership if her Agreement passed.
It is widely felt that this has been pivotal in winning the support of Johnson – who fancies the Prime Minister’s job for himself – and in bringing Rees Mogg around. However, the hardline Democratic Unionist Party remain unconvinced, and their refusal to support the deal may kill it off; not least because a number of Conservative Eurosceptics are looking to the DUP to see what they do.
Betfair have set an Over/Under of 279.5 – some way short of the total needed to see the vote through, although much higher than any “Yes” total so far. At the time of posting, their odds are sitting at 4/7 that there will be more Yes votes than that, 5/4 that there will be fewer. As a close vote is expected, we’d back the Over on this one.
So if April means the end of May, what comes next?
Recent machinations over the vote have made one thing clear – Theresa May has had just about enough of all of this, and if she can wedge her Bill through the Commons, she’ll resign the leadership of her party. She will thus also cease to be Prime Minister, opening the way for another leader to negotiate the next Brexit steps. Of course, if her deal falls again, she may well find that she has no choice but to step down anyway, or to call a General Election to try and sort the whole mess out once and for all. Either way, Theresa May’s days as PM seem to be numbered. So who will follow her into Downing Street?
Until last week, Johnson was favourite with the bookies – but this week’s jockeying for the role has been seen by many to be too shameless even for him, and it has hurt his prospects. Paddy Power are currently offering Environment Secretary Michael Gove as 4/1 favourite with Johnson second on 5/1.
Current Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn is 8/1, which might be a very decent bet if you think the deal is going to be voted down again. Considering that the Conservatives campaigned at the last election claiming they were the party who would deliver Brexit, failure to do so may hurt them at the ballot box in the event of another snap election.
Bets of the Day
Michael Gove next Prime Minister (Paddy Power, 4/1); More than 279.5 MPs to vote Yes (Betfair, 4/7); Withdrawal Agreement to pass (William Hill, 7/2)