More than two years after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, Brexit is almost here. Yet while the country is scheduled to depart on March 29, 2019, Britain is as divided over the issue as it ever has been.
Prime Minister Theresa May has agreed the terms of the ‘divorce’ with the leaders of the EU’s remaining member states, but lawmakers in the British parliament still have to approve the so-called Withdrawal Agreement.
In ordinary times, a Conservative government with a simple majority would be able to get the deal through the House of Commons with little fuss.
But these are extraordinary times. May cannot rely on the support from members of parliament in her own party – much less Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which has been propping up May’s minority government since her disastrous general election last year.
What happens if she wins the vote?
In the unlikely event that scores of MPs from across the political spectrum swing behind the embattled prime minister, it will allow the government to introduce the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill to the Commons either before Christmas or after recess (the holiday for parliament), in January.
While no guarantee of the legislation passing, it would suggest an orderly procession towards the EU exit doors.
What happens if she loses the vote?
You would expect Theresa May’s premiership to be over, right? While that’s a likely outcome, it is not the only one. These are the most likely scenarios.
– She could try again
This would depend on the margin of her defeat.
The European Union has been adamant this is a ‘take it or leave it’ deal that cannot be renegotiated. But if faced with the threat of a calamitous no-deal Brexit and following a narrow Commons defeat, May might fancy testing their resolve and seeing if she can get at least some cosmetic changes to appease enough MPs to win a second vote.
– Theresa May quits
May herself has been adamant that she will stay on as prime minister regardless of the result. But a defeat by something in the order of 200 votes – which would represent a rebellion by scores of her own MPs – and it could be the most elegant way out.
– May forced out by a Conservative rebellion
Conservative MPs most strongly opposed to May’s deal have already failed to oust May, struggling to muster enough support to trigger a leadership battle two weeks ago. But once the vote is over, other disgruntled Tory politicians could make their move.
– Second referendum
Yes, taking the deal to the public is an option. May has ruled it out, and Labour has backed the idea – but only if they do not get a general election. It would possibly require an extension to the two-year timeframe to agree a Brexit deal, but even a senior Conservative has suggested another referendum could logistically be held by the end of May (the month, that is).
– May calls another general election
The ‘Hail Mary’ pass. The Prime Minister could hope that voters will – via the ballot box – back her plan. Her fellow Conservatives are anxious to avoid this route after the 2017 election resulted in a hung parliament and a resurgent Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.
– Labour tries to force an election