Since the EU referendum 3 years ago, British politics has been riddled with twists and turns, that even the best hacks in Westminster have failed to keep up with. It was anticipated that this week would finally be the climactic moment for the Brexit saga and British politics as a whole, as MPs would have to pick a direction; Theresa May’s deal, no deal or an extension to Article 50 and a softening to Brexit. However, once again, in the lifetime of the May premiership, this has gone from a week which WILL define British politics, to one that MIGHT define British politics.
There are a plethora of scenarios which could take place over the next 4 days, from Theresa May finally passing her Withdrawal deal, to a move to officially support a no deal Brexit, the extension of article 50, and even a second referendum.
It was thought, that on Tuesday, MPs will finally get to have another say on Theresa May’s deal through another meaningful vote. However, as of yet, she is to win any concessions from the EU on the backstop, therefore at present she is likely to put the same deal as last time up for a vote. Although many will now back her deal, she is unlikely to pass this, unless concessions are made. This has led to rumours circulating that the vote might once again be pulled and a motion of a desired deal, will be put to Parliament to prove to the EU what has the support of Parliament.
If Theresa May decides to go ahead with a meaningful vote and wins on Tuesday, then Britain will leave the EU on 29th March and enter into an implementation period until 31st December 2020. In this period the UK will begin to negotiate our future relationship with the EU. If this is not done by 31st December 2020, then the UK and EU will enter the backstop, a mechanism which will keep the UK tied to the EU in a customs union to prevent a hard border, until negotiations are completed and an alternative arrangement is found.
The main uncertainty is around what happens if the deal does not pass on Tuesday, or even go ahead. The PM has already promised to give MPs a vote on the option to leave the EU on 29th March without a deal (unlikely to have enough support), and another vote to extend Article 50 (likely to win support). At this stage the most likely outcome of next week is an extension to article 50, which although will remove the threat of a no deal Brexit in two and a half weeks’ time, will only increase uncertainty and delay the inevitable.
Time is ticking for the Prime Minister to pass the purest form of Brexit, as her dithering continues, the more likely it is for Parliament to wrestle away control from her. So what ammo does the PM have left in her war chest?
Firstly, she can secure the changes needed to her deal, although, unless a choreographed move for a last minute arrangement in the next few hours has been planned, this seems unlikely as negotiations have hit a deadlock. She must secure the legal changes to the backstop in order to have any chance of passing her deal. Therefore she has 24 hours to secure those changes.
Secondly, as is widely being reported, the PM could one again cancel the scheduled vote tomorrow and on Wednesday, to heap further pressure on MPs to back her deal closer to Brexit day and secure more time for negotiations. However, this will be hugely unpopular in Westminster and could cause mass resignations from her cabinet and serious consequences in the commons. Nevertheless she is being encouraged by backbench MPs, to put down a motion of what she hopes a Brexit deal could look like, which could pass the Commons and send a message to the EU that if they want a deal this is it. This is likely to cause not only issues with her own backbenchers, but also Labour MPs who have resisted taking control of the process.
Finally, Theresa May could be forced into the nuclear option and bring an end to her dithering premiership. By promising to resign if her deal is voted through, she would allow someone else, with more authority and belief in Brexit to pick up the mantel for next round of negotiations. This would be popular with many of her brexiteer backbenchers who do not think she believes in Brexit. However, the Prime a minister is a stubborn person and unlikely to call time on her premiership, which she believes has been defined by Brexit, but would like it to be defined by tackling social injustices.
The situation this week will be fluid, with the rumour mill in overdrive and political rivals waiting in the wings to pick up the mantle, but whatever happens, this week will be an explosive one for Westminster. It should have defined British politics, but now may not, as the Brexit uncertainty continues.