When is a vote not a vote? The short answer to that question is when the outcome of the vote doesn’t matter. 

That’s why the David Davis announcement this week that the UK parliament would definitely get to vote on the final deal on Brexit was less dramatic than it might have been.

Would Brexit go ahead if Parliament voted down the deal, Mr Davis was asked?  Yes, came the reply. Pithy, direct and to the point - and there are not many elements of Brexit you can say that about.

The promise of a vote was an attempt to stem rebellion among Tory MPs as the EU Withdrawal Bill continues through Parliament.


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Previously known as the Great Repeal Bill, the now less loftily-titled legislation will carry EU laws onto the UK statute books to prevent a yawning chasm into which legislation could fall.

But if a defeat in the House of Commons on the final Brexit deal has no impact on staying or leaving, many of the most rebellious MPs are left holding a promise they feel is empty.

Voting against the Bill means simply leaving the EU with no deal. All hopes of renegotiation dashed. The basis for this legislation is simple.

At the moment thousands of pieces of EU law govern elements of every aspect of UK life - from finances to fisheries.

Once the UK leaves - on the dot of 11pm on 29 March 2019 according to Theresa May - it’s crucial that that legislation doesn’t simply disappear. 

This Bill should have that covered.

But already hundreds of amendments to the Bill have been tabled; most by Remain supporters who want to ensure they have as much input as possible into one of the biggest political developments in modern British history; some by Brexit supporters, who want to be sure there are no loopholes through which the Brexit they fought for could be watered down or disappear.

That’s why this legislation will be debated and divisive in its entire journey through the Commons and the Lords.

Mr Davis clearly thought his announcement of a vote in parliament on the legislation would quell rebellion on one element at least.

It’s increasingly clear that does not seem to have worked. For a government with a wafer thin majority, juggling a number of domestic political crises, this was always going to be about trying to offer something to smooth the way of this legislation.

But there will be little that is smooth about this Bill. On that, at least, both sides in the Brexit debate agree.