Brexit: what’s next?
With less than a month to go before the Brexit deadline the Government has called three important votes for the middle of March. Has the can reached the end of the road?
Up first is another ‘meaningful vote’, due no later than 12 March.
This will be the second attempt at getting Parliament’s consent to the withdrawal agreement which is needed under the EU Withdrawal Act. It will do better than the first attempt which lost by the biggest margin in modern history but will it do enough to win? If the Government wins then it can sign off the withdrawal agreement but if it loses it has promised to hold the second vote in the sequence.
The second vote is whether to leave the EU without any withdrawal agreement.
Looking at the voting history so far, this vote is highly unlikely to succeed. If it does succeed then the clock simply runs down to 11pm on 29 March and the UK leaves the EU without an agreement. If (which is much more likely) the vote fails then the Government moves to the third vote in the sequence.
The third vote is whether to seek an extension to the Article 50 deadline of 29 March.
If we get to this vote then MPs must have rejected the draft withdrawal agreement and the no-deal option. If (and it is a big if) MPs vote consistently, this vote should therefore be passed. But it is not as simple as that. Any extension of the Article 50 deadline requires unanimous consent from the EU 27 and without a clear plan of what will be done in the extension, it may well be vetoed. The Government has the power to revoke the Article 50 notification altogether but there is virtually no party political appetite for this option.
And so to the bad news. There is no scenario where Brexit will be concluded by the end of March. If the withdrawal agreement is approved then the much more difficult negotiations of trade agreements with the EU and the rest of the world begin. The government also needs to pass a huge backlog of legislation needed to implement the withdrawal agreement. If there is no deal and no extension then the same trade negotiations have to begin but from what most people think is a weaker negotiating position. If we seek an extension then the Government has to work out what it wants from the extension.
The can has been kicked not to the end of the street but to a crossroads. The next road is going to be longer and bumpier than the first.