A look at the possibilities after Friday’s vote in the House of Commons, as Parliament rejected Theresa May’s exit deal for a third time. A vote held on March 29, a date that for these last two years was the deadline for Brexit.
For these last two years debate has been raging over whether there should be a soft Brexit (Britain leaves the EU, but remains in the bloc’s single market and customs union) or a hard Brexit (Britain leaves the EU and its single market and customs union).
Complicating matters are discussions of just how hard a “hard Brexit” should be.
Now there is also the prospect of a chaotic, no-deal Brexit (Britain crashes out of the bloc with no trade agreements and no transition period).
On Monday, the British MPs are scheduled to hold a second round of voting on the most popular alternatives. The outcome is anybody’s guess. Theresa May and her cabinet are looking for ways to bring her EU withdrawal agreement back to the Commons for a fourth attempt at winning MPs’ backing.
The EU had given May until 11pm London time on Friday to secure approval for her deal if the UK was to be granted an automatic delay of its departure date to May 22. But after lawmakers rejected it, Britain now has until just April 12 to announce a new plan or crash out of the bloc without a deal, sparking fears of food and medicine shortages, and trade and transport chaos as border checks are reintroduced.
In the meantime the EU is planning an emergency summit on 10 April to discuss its next move.
So when will Brexit happen now?
Under the terms of the Brexit delay May secured from the EU last week, the UK is on course to leave the bloc on 12 April.
There are now two options for Brexit
a) The UK falls out of the EU without a deal in two weeks’ time.
b) May, or whoever is prime minister when the time comes, heads to Brussels to ask for another delay.
A general election?
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn repeated his call for an election in response to the defeat for Mrs May’s deal. The Prime Minister could be tempted to call a snap election to break the deadlock but apart from the complications regarding May’s position as leader, the question a lot are asking is would a new election produce a decisive result which would give whoever occupies Number 10 a majority to steer such a divisive issue through Parliament? An answer many dread to answer as many doubt it would be in the affirmative.
A fresh referendum?
In last Wednesday’s indicative votes a “confirmatory” vote on any deal which made it through Parliament was backed by 268 MPs but opposed by 295 and it is far from clear whether a majority can be found to return the issue to the public.
This scenario – and also that of a snap election – would require a lengthy extension beyond elections for the European parliament. At the summit on 10 April, leaders would decide on the length. Any extension to article 50 in this scenario would be no shorter than nine months, taking Britain’s membership of the EU up to 31 December 2019. An extension up to the end of March is far more likely and anything up to 21 months is possible, keeping the UK in the bloc until 2021.
Could Article 50 being revoked?
The European Court of Justice ruled last year that the UK could revoke Article 50 by itself, without having to ask the other 27 EU countries for permission. This would keep the UK in the EU, probably for good. However, this is widely seen as the “nuclear option,” which would lead to a huge backlash across the country. Moreover, the ECJ did not give a definitive answer on whether revocation had to be done by the UK executive or parliament, or both. “Revocation must be decided following a democratic process in accordance with national constitutional requirements,” the court said.