Europe Politics

Here are the votes that Theresa May needs to win her Brexit battle

Key Points
  • A third vote in the U.K. Parliament on her draft Brexit arrangement with the European union is expected on Tuesday.
  • U.K. leader Theresa May has lost the previous two votes by huge margins.
  • May is banking on the threat of a much "softer" Brexit to change the minds of lawmakers.
British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after the weekly cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street on March 12, 2019 in London, England.
Leon Neal | Getty Images

Like a boxer who won't go down, the U.K. leader Theresa May is still hoping to get her proposed Brexit agreement through Parliament despite having massively failed with the same deal on two previous occasions.

It is now expected that a third vote on the PM's "Withdrawal Deal" will take place in the House of Commons on Tuesday March 19. The two previous votes saw her draft proposal defeated by a record margin of 230 at the first attempt and then 149 votes in the second.

May's huge defeats came after large numbers of her own Conservative Party lawmakers voted against her. The prime minister is now banking that these euroskeptic lawmakers will now return to the fold, rather than risk a much longer delay to Britain's departure.

Lawmakers on Thursday have already backed an extension until June 30 if Parliament approves the government's Brexit deal by March 20. Legally, Britain is still due to leave the European Union on March 29 and European heads of state will need to approve any extension.

A lengthier delay is viewed as a real risk to Brexit supporters as it may allow momentum for a much "softer" departure and even raises the prospect of no Brexit at all. This avenue is seen as more likely should May lose again as Parliament would then seize more control over the Brexit process.

Third time lucky?

For May to secure a majority next Tuesday she needs 317 votes. Taking the starting point of her second vote defeat, which saw only 242 votes in favour, May would need all 75 of her Conservatives lawmakers who voted against her to change their mind.

This is unlikely to happen and so, once again, the ten votes of the Northern Irish DUP are critical. In June 2017, the Democratic Unionist Party offered to prop up May's minority government in exchange for £1 billion ($1.3 billion) to be spent on Northern Ireland. However the unionists hold a firm view that Brexit cannot separate Northern Ireland from mainland Britain in any way.

Where did Brexit come from?

On Friday, Reuters reported that the Irish Finance Minister said the DUP was now "engaging intensively" with the U.K. government.

Key to those discussions will be whether the DUP switches to support May's deal even though it includes a hated "backstop" arrangement.

The "backstop" has been included into May's deal which would ensure no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, even if no formal Brexit deal can be reached.

It is despised by the DUP and euroskeptic Conservatives who see it as a way of keeping Britain and Northern Ireland within Europe without a legal end date.

British and Irish politics professor, Jon Tonge, told BBC Northern Irish radio Friday that it was clear the DUP must either accept the backstop and choose May's deal or accept a softer Brexit deal.

"The DUP has to decide between what matters more: opposition to the backstop or support for Brexit. It's quite clear that Brexit with the backstop is as hard a Brexit as they're going to get," he said.

Pound sterling went on a roller-coaster ride this week while the U.K. parliament conducted a series of votes. In what is ultimately viewed as an "risk-on" outcome, the pound has moved 1.7 percent higher versus the dollar since Monday.