A hard no-deal Brexit or a delay on Britain leaving the EU? The British parliament’s thumping defeat of Theresa May’s Brexit deal increases the likelihood of both options.
The House of Commons shot down the prime minister’s long-suffering divorce deal with the other 27 EU nations on Tuesday by 391 votes to 242.
But this is far from the end of the Brexit saga despite Britain’s March 29 exit deadline fast approaching.
As of press time, British MPs were to vote on Wednesday on whether the country should leave the EU without a deal in just over two weeks.
If the “no-deal” option is voted down, another vote on whether or not to request a Brexit delay is to be held on Thursday.
Britain simply walking out without any new arrangements in place – the so-called “no-deal Brexit” – would automatically kick in should no deal be agreed.
May has been forced to give parliament a chance to vote against this potentially catastrophic scenario on Wednesday.
The looming prospect of trade routes clogging up and the UK pound crashing might simply be too much for a growing faction of May’s team to bear.
The parliamentary vote will only be advisory and do nothing to actually eliminate the danger of a cliff-edge ending to the saga.
But it would let EU officials know that the one thing London can agree on is that it wants an orderly divorce.
The no-deal’s rejection would be followed with a vote on Thursday that could see parliament tell May to ask EU leaders to approve a delay of Britain’s departure date.
May has spoken of a possible delay until the end of June but the Financial Times said some lawmakers are thinking much longer – nine to 21 months.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted on Monday that Britain’s exit should be completed by May 23-26 European parliamentary vote.
EU leaders have the final say on any delay.
What such a delay might be used for is one of Brexit’s great unknowns.
There are few reasons to think the different sides will suddenly stumble on a solution that has evaded them during two previous years of talks.
But two forces are expected to spring into action: groups backing a much closer EU-UK union – and ones that simply want to call the whole thing off.
A second referendum would also take a long time to organise and require parliamentary support.
May’s adamant refusal to back one means there would probably need to be a change in government and possibly early elections.
And few dare to predict what surprise British voters might spring next.
The idea of May’s deal with Brussels making a comeback after Tuesday’s fiasco might seem far-fetched.
But several factors continue to play in May’s favour and reports of her strategy’s demise might still be premature.
One is that Brexit backers are gradually realising that May might be offering their best – and quite possibly last – chance to split from the bloc.
And EU officials would like to see Britain’s status settled by the time voters across the continent elect a new European Parliament at the end of May.
The two factors might convince May to propose yet another – and this time truly final – vote on her 585-page pact with Brussels in the very near future.