This has been a momentous week on the Brexit front. Theresa May lost the vote on her Brexit deal a second time; no deal was comprehensively rejected by MPs; and the PM finally accepted the inevitability of an Article 50 extension.
Here’s a Q and A on how events could develop from here.
What is Mrs May’s next move?
She will bring her Brexit deal to the Commons for a third meaningful vote (MV3) on Monday or Tuesday. The assumption at Westminster is that she won’t get it through because not enough Labour MPs will back it — but the vote will probably be a good deal tighter than this week’s defeat by 149 votes.
What if Mrs May wins the MV third time round?
In that case, Britain leaves the EU. The PM goes to European Council on Thursday March 21 and agrees a technical extension of Article 50 up to June 30 to push the necessary Brexit legislation through the Commons. Pushing that legislation through parliament will be tough — but the road map to Brexit Day would be pretty clear.
What if Mrs May loses the vote?
The PM goes to European Council and then agrees a longer extension, possibly up to 21 months. Any extension (long or short) has to be signed off by all 27 EU member states. It also has to be passed into UK law by parliament before March 29.
Mrs May says that defeat for her deal and a long extension means the UK will have to take part in European elections on May 23 — a major embarrassment for the government.
What happens if we go into the long Article 50 extension?
David Lidington, the “deputy PM”, has said the government “would facilitate a process in the two weeks after the March European Council to allow the House to seek a majority on the way forward”. This process would have to be negotiated with Labour.
Nothing is specified on what that process would be. But the likelihood is that the Commons would hold what are called indicative votes on other options: Norway-style EEA, customs union, second referendum.
Could May bring back her deal a fourth time?
It can’t be excluded. Obviously, it would help if the margin of defeat third time round were narrow. But it’s hard to see how MV4 could happen before the government has at least made good on its commitment to let MPs look at — and vote on — other options. If all those fail to muster a majority Mrs May could try MV4 in early April.
How long can Mrs May last as PM?
If she wins next week she would probably stay at Downing Street at least until June and the end of the short extension. If she loses — and we enter a long extension — things are harder to predict.
One factor to bear in mind is that Mrs May’s deal is only going to be comprehensively defeated when the Commons has chosen some other route. So she might hang on to see if MV4 becomes a possibility if the indicative vote process fails to resolve anything.
What is harder to predict is what would happen if the Commons were to pursue an alternative, say, permanent customs union. Could she really be the person to champion a course of action she has resolutely rejected? It’s hard to imagine.
Who governs Britain?
“On August 29 2013, the British submarine HMS Tireless was somewhere in the Mediterranean, ready to go to battle. But unusually, its commanders were watching the House of Commons. MPs were debating whether to authorise strikes against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Tracking events in parliament via the BBC website, the submarine’s commanders realised, before any order came through, that they would not be firing cruise missiles after all. The events of August 2013 put the current crisis in perspective. Long before Brexit, MPs had started to take back control. Long before Brexit, they had learnt it was no simple task.” (Henry Mance, FT)
Under which conditions would the EU27 agree to an Article 50 extension?
In an updated country-by-country guide following the UK parliament voting for the Government to request an Article 50 extension, Open Europe’s Anna Nadibaidze looks at possible reasons for which the EU27 would agree to a Brexit delay. (Open Europe)
Europe without the UK: liberated or diminished?
“The signs are that deepening of the single market will continue, with a focus on the digital market. Though integrating services markets would be a big prize, the opposition of national regulators and professional bodies is likely to prevent progress, especially without the UK’s influence. France and Germany, which have not always supported liberalisation, will have proportionately more weight post-Brexit. There are indications, however, that countries that champion the single market have realised that they need to fill the gap left by the UK’s departure.” (Centre for European Reform)