What Does a Parliamentary Vote on Brexit Mean? Q&A

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Theresa May's Brexit Speech in 50 Seconds

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May pledged Tuesday to give both houses of Parliament a vote on the final Brexit deal she strikes with the European Union. The pound surged on the news. But does the vote actually change anything?

What will Parliament be voting on?

By the time the deal gets to Parliament, Britain will already be in the two-year countdown phase that is triggered when Article 50 is invoked. Unless an extension is granted, the country falls out of the EU two years after the start of talks. That means that the choice faced by lawmakers will be either to accept the deal or force Britain to leave the EU without an agreement.

What happens if Parliament votes against it? 

If Parliament votes against it, then with no time to negotiate a new deal, the default arrangement is World Trade Organization rules. That means tariffs for exporters. It would also mean that any transitional arrangements that had been agreed to would be void.

“We will be leaving the EU. We’re going to be having a negotiation. Members of Parliament will be having a vote on the outcome. Whatever happens, we will be leaving the EU,” May’s spokeswoman, Helen Bower, told reporters on Tuesday.

Does it help May politically?

Political opponents have called for a vote on the final deal and this allows her to say she’s respecting parliamentary sovereignty.

“It’s a clever move,” says Wyn Grant, professor of politics at Warwick University. “It’s respecting the Parliament but in practice they’re not there to veto Brexit.”

Where could her gamble go wrong?

If two years from now the economy is struggling, then lawmakers could decide the view of the public has shifted and it’s worth voting down without being accused of defying the will of 2016 voters. That could mean the end of her government.

What about the vote on Article 50?

The Supreme Court is still weighing up whether to force May to give Parliament a vote on triggering Article 50. Lawmakers across the spectrum have said they won’t seek to block Brexit.