The Brexit deal of Prime Minister Theresa May has been rejected by parliament. She is now talking to rival politicians to find a solution before a plan B is presented on Monday. If her plan is not convincing, the British legislators will try to take over the process. That could mean that we maintain much closer ties with the block, or even a second referendum.
With only 10 weeks left until the UK leaves the European Union, what are the most likely scenarios?
1. Brexit only in name and not so long
It is perhaps the best way to maintain close links with the internal market and the EU customs system to get a Brexit deal that can support Parliament, although May has excluded it. It is known as "Norway-plus" or "Common Market 2.0" for its supporters and "Brexit in Name Only" for its opponents.
Critics have one point: this scenario would abandon the British rules from Brussels and would not address any of the main promises of the referendum campaign – that would stop uncontrolled immigration from Europe. Companies would usually be satisfied.
To get there, MEPs propose motions or amendments that show support for the idea. The government is requesting an extension of the Brexit daily deadline of 29 March and will again open talks with the EU. The payout agreement remains unchanged, including the hated Irish backstop. But the statement on future tires has been rewritten, making it very unlikely that the fallback option will ever be used.
The plan must then go through the House of Commons. May lose a few pro-Brexit ministers along the way, while the ruling Conservative Party would be more divided than ever. Great Britain could then leave at the end of 2019 or 2020 and most people would not notice anything else.
2. Log in to a customs union
May has long promised not to sign a customs union, because it would prevent the United Kingdom from entering into new trade agreements with other countries, another important promise in the 2016 campaign. She repeated that stance in private for Brexit hardliners on Thursday . She risked stepping down euroskeptische ministers and would also lose some support from her party.
But it could just be enough to defeat those pro-EU conservatives – and some Labor MPs – who would find it close enough to the official policy of the party to be acceptable.
This also comes with an extension of the negotiation period, so the Brexit will not take place on March 29. And the Irish border problem will not be completely resolved by simply remaining in the customs union. There are pro-Brexit conservatives at risk and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party could be so angry that they drop off the May government by supporting Corbyn's next no-confidence vote.
3. General elections
Different paths lead to this. Labor wins a vote of no confidence with the help of angry Brexit supporters and an election is activated. Alternatively, May may call an election as the only way to get a mandate for her deal. Still, parliamentary arithmetic can not change much. So the impasse remains unresolved.
4. Second referendum
If Labor repeatedly fails to get the general elections that Corbyn asks for, he said the next option would be to support a second referendum. The members of his party voted last year at their conference that there must be one on the table, so if Corbyn supports a re-run, there is a fair chance that this will happen. About 10 conservatives are already in favor of going back to the people, just like the smaller opposition parties.
It turned out on Thursday that the government investigated the logistics of a second referendum. The most important pick-up option is that it would take more than a year to arrange this – another reason why Brexit might not be on time.
5. Renew, Renew, Renew
European officials are already working on the assumption that the UK will request an extension of the Brexit deadline. It is not clear how long. Neither party wants to negotiate perpetual limbo, nor can the option be excluded.
6. No deal
This is the default option and it is also the one that both parties want to avoid. The British parliament is overwhelming and has tools to block it. Britain can also unilaterally roll back the Brexit, according to a court ruling last month – another safety net. But May doggedly refuses to rule out a deal, and so companies still have to prepare for the worst.
Copyright 2019 Bloomberg.
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