Is a general election the best way out of the Brexit deadlock?
By Joe Harker
Prime minister Theresa May looks set to lose her meaningful vote on her Brexit deal next week and the amendment from Dominic Grieve gives her only three sitting days of parliament to propose an alternative option in case of defeat.
Leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn has restated his position that the UK needs a general election if May cannot pass her deal through the House of Commons. His plan is to win a general election and renegotiate the Brexit deal to Labour's specifications.
Any sort of election or vote would likely require an extension to Article 50 as there is precious little time to sort anything out. May wasted one of the UK's four remaining months heading for the exit date of March 29 by delaying the meaningful vote until the new year. A general election campaign would take at least 25 days during which time parliament is dissolved.
After an election it can take up to two weeks before MPs are inducted and sworn in and the Commons can resume its business. The time it takes to hold, campaign for and resolve a general election would eat into the UK's remaining time. An extension will almost certainly be needed to avoid a no deal Brexit, particularly since the EU has said they won't renegotiate the deal on the table and this stance must either change or the new government realises the situation they are in.
If Corbyn does manage to get the election he wants it will spell the end of Theresa May, who said she would not lead the Tories into the next vote. That might actually help the party as her previous performance in campaigning saw the Tories throw away their majority from a position where she looked certain to increase it. May is terrible at campaigning and Corbyn is in his element.
The vote for the Conservatives would be affected by who they chose as the new party leader, by extension affecting the Brexit stance of the party. It could give the Tories a chance to make a clean break with May's deal, though soft Brexiteers would seek something close to what the prime minister has negotiated.
Quite how the general election will be triggered is another matter. May has previously suggested she would re-run the meaningful vote until MPs voted for it but this would probably be prefaced by another pointless trip to Brussels to ask for more concessions. If she loses her vote she has a number of options and calling a snap election is unlikely to be her preferred option if her deal fails.
It would likely need external pressure, perhaps from a vote of no confidence in the government called by Corbyn. He has said he will call one "at the moment we judge it to have the best chance of success". Most would assume this is right after the prime minister lost the vote on her deal, but victory would not be guaranteed.
A general election might not be the best thing for Labour, despite the intentions of Corbyn. Polling suggests that if the party backed Brexit in their manifesto they would lose plenty of votes. Most Labour voters backed Remain, as do a majority of party members. In the worst case scenario they would drop below the Liberal Democrats in polling.
The UK needs a way out of the current deadlock, there is no united political will for any direction on Brexit at the moment. However, a general election will not necessarily resolve that. Who would lead the Tories into the vote since May has said she would step down? Would any one party gain a majority in the Commons?
There is no guarantee that an election would clear up the situation, though it would perhaps more accurately reflect the state of the UK on Brexit. No majority for any one direction, just more mess and chaos.