This week saw the deal that Theresa May had negotiated with the EU for almost two years get rejected by Parliament in the largest parliamentary defeat in almost a century.
With Theresa May now reaching out to other party leaders to assist her in passing a deal through parliament, and with the government narrowly avoiding a vote of no confidence, what exactly happens now with Brexit?
Theresa May will return to Parliament tomorrow and outline her plans for a ‘plan B’, with a full debate vote on what she proposes the following week. So will we head for no deal, a renegotiation with the European Union or even a second referendum?
A second vote on May’s deal
The most probable scenario in the short-term is that May attempts to bring back her deal to Parliament for a second vote, perhaps after securing some sort of concession from the EU on wording around the backstop. If no minor changes were gained, the will of Parliament must have clearly changed for a second vote to take place, as (in principle) MPs shouldn’t vote on the same question twice in the same parliamentary session.
Renegotiation of the deal
If this fails, May might be forced back to the European Union for a larger renegotiation of the deal to get it to pass through parliament. This is, of course, dependent on the EU agreeing to renegotiate in such a way (something that it has previously ruled out). However, as this would take time, it would require the UK requesting the EU for an extension to Article 50 to delay the date Britain leaves – this would require unanimous support of all the 27 member states. The government would then also have to amend the EU Withdrawal Act to change the date of departure, which would be subject to a vote in Parliament. Even if all that is successful, May would still have to then bring the renegotiated deal to Parliament for a vote to approve it.
Parliament takes control
Alternatively, MPs are considering letting Parliament ‘taking back control’ of the Brexit process by passing an amendment to force the government’s hand in a second vote on the deal. One such proposal, backed by a number of Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs, would force May to seek an extension of Article 50 if no deal is passed by the end of next month.
No deal Brexit
The Prime Minister could choose to head for a no deal Brexit, something which many hard-line Brexiteers on Conservative backbenches would approve of. However, the majority of Parliament are opposed to such a move and voted to limit the ability of the Treasury to raise certain taxes to prepare for no deal in a vote earlier this month (albeit in a mostly symbolic move). This option is unlikely, given the numerous concerns from businesses and financial analysts who have warned about the economic fallout of Britain crashing out of the EU with no deal.
A second no confidence motion
Having failed in its no confidence motion in the government earlier this week, Labour could try again to force a general election by putting forward another motion of no confidence. Should Labour be successful the second time around, there would be 14 days for a government to be formed and win a vote of confidence. If Parliament is unable to do this, a general election would be held. As a general election campaign lasts for 25 days after Parliament is dissolved, it is likely this would also require an extension to Article 50.
Snap general election
Even if Labour fail in their attempts to hold an early general election, Theresa May might decide that it is the only way to break the deadlock and get a majority to support her deal. Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, she would have to get two-thirds of MPs to vote for an early general election. Should she succeed, she would also be able to choose the precise date of the election, so long as it was at least 25 days after the dissolution of Parliament. Again, an extension of Article 50 would be required.
A second referendum
If the government decide against an election, they may resort to a second referendum. Should this route be pursued, it would require, again, an extension to Article 50, as well as legislation to make the vote happen and outline the rules of such a referendum. The referendum question would then have to be determined by the Electoral Commission. According to University College London’s Constitution Unit, the minimum possible time this could take is 22 weeks, and that is not including the required campaigning period for the vote. Currently, the Conservative Party are strongly against another vote and Labour are deeply divided on the issue, so a ‘People’s Vote’ is unlikely to take place.
It is worth noting that, should Article 50 be extended, it is likely that the United Kingdom would have to elect MEPs to the European Parliament in the elections in May.
Unilaterally revoke Article 50
In an unlikely move, the government could opt to revoke Article 50 and halt the withdrawal process; the European Court of Justice recently ruled that it would be legal for the UK to do so without the approval of other EU countries.