The withdrawal agreement that Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with the EU27 is the deal that refuses to die. Despite being thrice rejected by the Commons - two of those defeats by historic margins - the prime minister is reportedly planning to bring the deal - which many declared "dead" on Friday - back for a fourth vote next week, as the European Union hints that it won't allow another extension of Article 50.
If what would be the fourth vote on the deal fails, May would try calling another general election, even as some members of her own cabinet have reportedly opposed the idea and said she would need to resign before going to the country again. Of course, last time May called a general election in summer of 2017, it didn't end so well. While May had hoped it would strengthen her hand in talks with Europe, the conservatives ended up losing their majority in the Commons, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn - once derided as an ineffectual Communist - emerged as a credible threat to the rival Tories.
In the hours since her deal was defeated by a margin of 58 votes, which, though not ideal, was a major improvement over the 149-vote margin of defeat from the second vote, unconfirmed rumors about where May's government might go from here have flooded the British press.
Rumors have included a "runoff" vote between May's deal and the most popular option from the indicative vote earlier this week (which would be a 'softer' deal where the UK stays in the Customs Union), to a general election, to a request for another short-term delay of Article 50. But European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said the bloc was leaning toward a 'no deal' Brexit.
Faced with the imminent prospect of a general election, May and her aides believe more Brexiteers would decide to back her deal, Buzzfeed reports. May hinted at a general vote during remarks after the deal's defeat.
The prime minister’s aides are preparing to call a fourth vote on her withdrawal agreement following Friday’s 58 vote defeat — the third time it has been rejected by MPs.
Downing Street insiders said this could come either in the form of another so-called “meaningful vote”, or by tabling the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and committing to allowing Parliament to set the negotiating mandate for the next stage of negotiations.
May’s aides are also looking at a “run-off” pitting May’s deal against the most successful alternative plan found at the next round of indicative votes, due on Monday and Wednesday.
A Number 10 official predicted that the alternative option most popular in Parliament would be the withdrawal agreement with a permanent customs union put to a confirmatory referendum.
Posed with a choice between that and May’s deal, it is believed more Brexiteer rebels would switch over to support the government.
Of course, to bring the deal back for a fourth vote, May would need to once again meet Speaker Bercow's "substantially different" test - his ruling that she can't bring the deal back unless significant changes are made. On Friday, she accomplished this by separating the withdrawal agreement from the non-binding political statement setting out a framework for the second round of negotiations on future relations between the UK and the block. Exactly how she would do it next week isn't exactly clear. She could accomplish it by tabling a Withdrawal Agreement bill instead of the "meaningful vote" along with a commitment to allowing Parliament more control over negotiations during the second phase of talks, which would focus on the future relationship.
Furthermore, the prospect of another vote could trigger a mutiny among her MPs, who would likely refuse to support it unless May agrees to step down.
In any event, with the EU hinting that it doesn't plan on giving any ground during an emergency summit next month, May probably understands at this point that if the deal isn't passed, over the cliff the UK will go. With thousands of Britons marching on London Friday demanding Brexit, even if the EU would assent to one, another delay might be politically disastrous at home.
As far as BBG can tell, here's a flow chart sketching out the next steps: