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Explainer: Why oh why is Theresa May's Brexit deal being voted on again?

‘God loves a trier.’

UK Prime MInister Theresa May.
UK Prime MInister Theresa May.
Image: PA Images

WILL TODAY BE third time lucky for British Prime Minister Theresa May?

A couple of hours out from the latest Brexit vote it seems unlikely if the DUP’s stance continues, but her government is going to try anyway.

The House of Commons is going to vote on the Withdrawal Agreement for the third time, but why are they going again and why is it different this time around.

In large part, the primary reason for today’s vote is an attempt to push back the Brexit date, again.

Lest anyone forget, today was supposed to be #BrexitDay. The UK invoked Article 50 two years ago today and so was supposed to leave the bloc at 11pm tonight.

But as we know, the agreement on how this is to happen has not been approved by the House of Commons, and the UK therefore sought an extension on this deadline.

The EU agreed, but there were some conditions attached.

European leaders insisted that the UK could not remain part of the EU if it did not hold MEP elections that are due on 23 May.

It was therefore agreed that the UK’s exit date be extended until 22 May, but only if the UK parliament passed the Withdrawal Agreement.

If the agreement is not passed, which is currently the case, Brexit may happen before 12 April as this is the date considered the cut off for MEP elections. 

May and the UK government do not want to leave with no deal on 12 April and are therefore giving parliament one more shot at passing the agreement today.

The EU has also stated that if the UK government wants a longer extension, this would also have to be agreed before 12 April so the Withdrawal Agreement will still need to be passed.

To complicate things though, House Speaker John Bercow said that Commons rules dictate that MPs could not vote on the exact same thing again.

So to get around this, May’s government has proposed an important change to today’s vote.

While the two previous votes were on the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on the Future Relationship, today’s vote will only be on the Withdrawal Agreement.

This change satisfied Bercow, who said the motion was not “substantially different”.

But what is the story with these two documents?

They’re different in that the Withdrawal Agreement sets out conditions for how the UK will leave, such as the transition period and rules about the backstop.

The document is 585 pages long and also contains details about the UK’s €39-44 billion divorce bill.

The Political Declaration is much shorter, at 26 pages, and sets out what the UK hopes for the UK-EU relationship after the transition period.

It sets out the end of free movement of EU citizens and also makes reference to trade between both parties being as close as possible to what it currently is.

Importantly, the Withdrawal Agreement is legally binding while the Political Declaration is not.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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