Parliament has rejected the PMs deal. What options are available to her now?

The UK’s decision to leave the EU following a referendum in June 2016 has been the dominant issue in UK politics for nearly three years.

Yet, just a fortnight before the legal date on which the UK must leave  (29th of March) MPs comprehensively rejected Prime Minister May’s Withdrawal Agreement which was arrived at only after pain staking negotiations over many months.

Today (13th March) MPs are expected to reject the alternative “no deal” as an option – “no deal” means the UK would leave the EU without an agreement on a customs union or access to the single market and be subject to significant changes to trade and tariffs.

Tomorrow (14th March) MPs will face a further vote on whether or not to ask the EU’s 27 members to extend the deadline for leaving. It’s expected MPs will support this.

This would mean MPs will have voted against the Prime Minister’s preferred deal, voted against leaving with no deal at all and voted to extend the deadline for leaving altogether (although the length of time the extension will be for and what the Government must do in that time is not yet clear).

The UK is very much in uncharted territory and the outcome is not obvious which compounded with the added complexity that the law currently states that, as a default position, the UK will leave the EU on the 29th of March with no deal if an agreement cannot be reached:

But if the EU refuses to renegotiate, or if the revised Agreement is again rejected by the Commons, then four options would present themselves:

  1. The first is that the UK leaves the EU without a deal if MPs continue to reject the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement at the end of any extended deadline. The Prime Minister has made it clear that “no deal” remains the default position.
  2. The second is a further referendum. There is a great deal of support for this within the Labour Party and some sections of the Conservative Party. There is also a significant public campaign. However, there aren’t currently enough MPs will to support the measure because of a reluctance to be seen as trying to overturn the result of the 2016 referendum.
  3. The Prime Minister does not want a second referendum but may well be forced to call an election in order to secure some sort of mandate and break the deadlock. Labour want to call an election and would want to fight on an agenda of ending austerity. However, the reality is that any election would become a proxy on the terms of leaving the EU. It is unlikely that a general election would produce a decisive position.
  4. A compromise position may be necessary which allows for a softer Brexit which will, for example, allow the UK to remain part of the customs union for tariffs and trade agreements.

There are few in Government or in the leadership of the political parties who would hazard a guess as to the eventual outcome of the process we find ourselves in. The caveats behind the options facing the Government mean that there isn’t a strong majority for any one solution.

Voting for the withdrawal agreement or no deal seems implausible if Parliament has already shown that there is no majority for either. A second referendum would be complex and require an extension of Article 50 of at least six months which would require the UK having to take part in the EU elections. Such a move would also be deeply unpopular amongst the majority who voted to leave. Finding a compromise that will satisfy the range of views across the main political parties, as well as the smaller parties who the Conservatives rely on for their majority, could perhaps require a level of good faith that is no longer to be found in the current leadership.

Holding a general election may be the easiest options as doing so requires a two thirds majority in Parliament and Labour are committed to supporting it. However, Conservatists will be wary of re-running an election three years before they are required to do so because it brings with it the risk of a Labour victory led by Jeremy Corbyn.

One thing is for sure Brexit isn’t over yet.