For the last two years, British and European politicians have been focusing hard on getting a deal for Britain’s departure from the European Union, in time for the end of the negotiation period on March 29th 2019.
However, with Parliament voting down Theresa May’s deal in a historic defeat in the first ‘meaningful vote’ on the deal and with the Prime Minister putting the possibility of an extension to the negotiation process to a vote in the House of Commons (if the deal and no deal are voted down), it is looking like the probability of Britain leaving on time is becoming more and more unlikely with less than a month to go.
So what are the chances of Britain leaving on the planned date?
The next ‘meaningful vote’ on the Brexit deal is set to be put to Parliament by March 12th. Should this fail to pass, the likelihood of an extension of Article 50 is almost inevitable. The number of Conservative backbench MPs in the right-wing European Research Group (ERG) is nowhere near enough to pass a motion in Parliament backing a no-deal Brexit, scheduled for the day after another defeat on the deal. Labour and the other opposition parties are almost certain to back such a move and moderate Conservatives who favour a deal to leave the EU will almost certainly rally around this.
The deal, of course, could pass. Members of the ERG are softening their stance on the deal and there are suggestions a number of Labour MPs, possibly as many as 70, may rebel and vote in favour of the deal to prevent a second referendum. Even in this case, it is also quite likely that a technical extension of Article 50 will be needed, in order to pass the legislation for Britain to leave. This is something that Brexiteer and Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom has admitted to, saying that the date of Brexit may have to be pushed back by a couple of weeks.
And then there is an amendment to the deal by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, which could attract support from the wider Labour Party. This proposes that MPs will support the Brexit deal in favour of a ratification referendum; a choice between May’s deal or no deal. Should this pass, which is probably unlikely, we could see an extension of Article 50 for perhaps several months to allow for legislation for the referendum and for campaigning.
International Trade Secretary and staunch Eurosceptic Liam Fox has conceded that an extension of Article 50 may be unavoidable in order to ensure a ‘smooth Brexit’.
So don’t be surprised if, come March 30th, Britain is still a member of the European Union.