Brexit Has Been Delayed, Everything Is A Mess – So What Happens Now?

There's very little time left, and anything could happen.
Lauren Gosling-Powell

So Brexit has been delayed and believe it or not, everything is about to get even messier.

The EU has given Theresa May until April 12 to pass her beleaguered Brexit deal, removing the March 29 cliff-edge exit day that was looming large next Friday.

If she manages to pass the withdrawal agreement, the UK will be granted a further extension to May 22 to give the prime minister time to pass the laws needed to make Brexit a reality.

But with the prospects for her deal looking bleak, things could get a whole lot more complicated.

If the deal does not pass, the UK will face a choice between requesting a longer extension (possibly until the end of the year), or quitting the EU with no deal in three weeks on April 12.

As we said, things could get messy.

Will the deal pass?

May managed to anger pretty much everyone with her spectacularly ill-judged “parliament versus the people” speech on Wednesday evening – alienating precisely the people she needs to get her deal through the Commons.

Some MPs have warned that she could lose a third meaningful vote, likely to be held on Tuesday or Wednesday, by an even bigger margin than the 149 defeat she suffered earlier this month.

May will nevertheless be working tirelessly to stitch together a coalition of Tory Brexiteers, Labour MPs in Leave-voting constituencies and the Northern Irish DUP to try and get her deal through. Many Tories believe she could unlock significant support by setting a date for her resignation.

The situation is further complicated as hardline Brexiteers now feel that a no-deal Brexit on April 12 is tantalisingly close.

Parliament takes control

Next up, May will have to navigate another attempt by MPs to seize control of the parliamentary timetable to allow time for votes on different Brexit options.

A cross-party amendment tabled by Tory Sir Oliver Letwin to start this process looks likely to pass in a series of Brexit-related votes on Monday.

If that passes, the stage will be set on Wednesday for MPs to begin tabling their favoured alternatives to May’s plan.

These could include proposals for a softer “Norway-plus” model, or a “Common Market 2.0″ style Brexit, or a second referendum.

Opposition parties also believe Labour is more likely to back the Common Market plan, rather than a second referendum.

May would still however have to allow the plan to go ahead if MPs back it, which could trigger the resignation of cabinet Leavers and an attempt to oust her.

What about no deal?

One option which could be open to May if her deal is voted down is to back a no-deal Brexit on April 12.

Given preparations have already geared towards March 29, the government and businesses may be in a better place to deal with it, although it would still be an enormous upheaval which even its backers acknowledge would cause at least a short-term economic shock.

Cabinet remainers would almost certainly quit and attempt to force May out if no deal became government policy, while several Tories have also said they’ll quit the party and force a general election to stop it.

There is however such limited time that the prospect of an accidental no-Brexit cannot be ruled out.

If the deal goes down next week May will have a choice between quitting as PM take over, backing a no-deal Brexit which could see her ousted by cabinet Remainers anyway, or seeking a long extension and allowing parliament to decide the next steps, which could trigger a similar move against her by Tory Leavers.

So basically anything could still happen and there is very little time?

Yes. In a way, nothing has changed. Except Britain faces a much more concrete cliff-edge, which will hopefully concentrate minds.