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Brexit: What’s next?

There are only 71 days left until Brexit and the situation could not be more chaotic.

The vote in the House of Commons on the Withdrawal Agreement presented the biggest defeat in history a UK government had ever experienced. A crushing 230 Members of Parliament (MPs) voted against Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal.

On top of that, May had to face another vote of no confidence after she had won the last one in December 2018 with a majority of 83. This time, the motion was tabled by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn right after the vote on the Brexit deal. May survived by a margin of only 19 votes. She now has until the 21st January 2019 to come up with a new “Plan B” and present it to the Commons. A vote on May’s “Plan B” is set to take place on 29th January 2019.

Everyone is left wondering what will happen next? May’s options did not change, the deal did not change and the opposition to it did not change. No solution for the problem seems to be in sight and time is running out.

After she had won the vote of confidence, May reached out to other party leaders in search for a cross-party compromise. The step, which had been avoided until now, shows how deeply divided her own party is. Opposition and Labour leader Corbyn refused to meet with May until she removes the threat of a No-Deal Brexit. So far, May has refused to do so. Should May succeed in finding a cross-party compromise deal, she would need to bring the deal to Brussels, hoping that the EU27 and European Parliament will approve the new deal.

Such renegotiations would most likely need an extension of the Article 50 period beyond 29th March 2019. Although the EU seems inclined to agree to such an extension, she has ruled out substantial renegotiation.

May’s second option is to propose a second referendum. This would not only need to be approved by the MPs, but it would also call for an extension of the Article 50 period. Provided that MPs and the EU agree, a new debate could be sparked about what question should be asked. The options are: Deal or No-Deal versus Deal or Remain?

Her third option, calling for an early general election, would need the approval of two-thirds of MPs. Whereas Conservatives are against an early general election, Labour would support such a next step. In the unlikely event the election is called, an extension of Article 50 is again most likely needed.

The least preferred option that neither the EU nor the British government want but which has become more likely after the vote, is a No-Deal Brexit. Without an agreement in the Commons or an extension of Article 50, the UK will crash out of the EU on 29th March 2019.

The last option is also the most unlikely one: No Brexit at all. As the European Court of Justice ruled in December 2018, the UK could unilaterally revoke Article 50 before the exit date on 29th March 2019. However, the government has repeatedly confirmed its commitment to the result of the 2016 referendum on its EU membership.

An extension seems most likely. But that again begs the question, what for? With the demands for substantial renegotiation repeatedly turned down by the EU, and the British government not being in favor of a second referendum or a general election, not many options remain.