No deal Brexit: What time is the vote tonight and what will happen?

Samantha Herbert
Theresa May speaking to the house after losing the second meaningful vote on the government's Brexit deal on Tuesday - AFP

MPs will return to the Commons today to vote on another significant Brexit motion, this time deciding whether Britain should leave the European Union without a deal.

Immediately after the defeat of her Withdrawal Agreement yesterday, Mrs May confirmed that MPs will now be given a vote tonight on whether to take a no-deal divorce off the table.

The Prime Minister also announced that Conservatives MPs would be given a free vote on the matter, meaning they will decide for themselves and will not be put under any pressure from the party to vote a certain way. 

When will the vote take place?

The House of Commons has a packed scheduled today, with the main interest beginning at 12pm with Prime Minister's Questions.

At 12.45pm Chancellor Philip Hammond is billed to present the Spring Statement.

After this, at 2.30pm the motion on no-deal Brexit will be put forward. The vote could take place any time after this, but will likely occur in the early evening. 

What happens if MPs vote for no deal?

If MPs vote for no deal, the UK will leave on March 29 without a deal, automatically reverting to World Trade Organisation trade rules.

Mrs May said: "If the House votes to leave without a deal on the 29th of March it will be the policy of the Government to implement that decision. 

This is the route backed by Boris Johnson who said on Tuesday that the Prime Minister's Brexit deal had reached the end of the road and that Britain should now leave the bloc without an agreement.

Mr Johnson said that while this would be more difficult in the short term, in the end it would be "the only safe route out of the abyss and the only safe path to self respect".

What happens if MPs vote against no deal?

 If MPs vote against a no-deal Brexit, then a vote on extending Article 50 will be voted upon on Thursday.

If MPs support this motion, Theresa May will formally ask European leaders for the Article 50 process to be extended. The EU27 must then unanimously agree to her request.

But Mrs May warned: "Voting against leaving without a deal and for extension does not solve the problems we face.

"The EU will want to know what use we mean to make of such an extension and this House will have to answer that question.

"Does it wish to revoke Article 50, does it want to hold a second referendum, or does it want to leave with a deal but not this deal?

The length of any possible extension is also not yet known, but many have raised concerns of a delay stretching beyond European parliament elections which begin on 23rd May.

If an exit strategy has not yet been agreed by that date, the UK could have to partake and elect British MPs to the European Parliament. 

What does a 'free vote' on no-deal Brexit mean?

Whenever there is a vote in the House of Commons, the partyies usually have their own official positions on how to vote. These are known as "the whip" and are instructions on how MPs should vote. They are enforced by party whips. Whips are graded in severity from one to three lines. Breaking a whip, ie rebelling, can be damaging to a junior MPs career prospects. Any MP on the government payroll, such as ministers, would be expected to resign or be sacked if they were to break the whip.

A free vote is when no whip is imposed on MPs. Ordinarilly, these are reserved for matters of concience, such as votes on abortion or assisted dying. It is extremely unusual for them to be given on a matter of government business.

Mrs May has been forced to give a free vote on the no-deal vote because dozens of ministers and Cabinet members had threatened to resign if she didn't. While it is unlikely to change the overall result of the vote, with MPs expected to reject no deal, it is a sign of the Prime Minister's diminished position.