Lawmakers this week began five days of debate leading up to a crunch December 11 vote on the divorce deal agreed between May’s government and the European Union.
May insists the deal “delivers for the British people.” But there’s a strong chance the House of Commons will reject it, leaving Britain staring at a Brexit precipice: exit on March 29 with no deal in place.
Very few paths lie ahead, should the vote fail. One is renegotiation: an EU summit is scheduled for December 13-14, and Britain could go back to the bloc seeking changes to the deal. EU leaders insist it is not renegotiable, but while the 585-page withdrawal agreement is locked down, the declaration on future relations is shorter and vaguer. If that were tweaked, the government could bring the amended deal back to Parliament and hope for a different result.
A second option is changing the PM. May insists she has no plans to resign, but she may have no choice if she loses the vote by a wide margin. Alternately, pro-Brexit Conservative rebels who have long wanted to oust her can trigger a no-confidence vote if they amass 48 letters of support.
The main opposition Labour Party has also said it would try to trigger an election by calling a no-confidence vote in the government, creating a third option: a new national vote. Labour would require support from some Conservatives, however, who may be unwilling to support a ballot that could see them ousted from power.
The campaign to revisit Brexit in a second referendum — driven largely by supporters of the losing “remain” side last time around — has been gathering steam as the pitfalls and complexity of the divorce process become clear and that’s a fourth choice. The government is firmly opposed.
Finally, there’s “no deal” – the outcome almost no-one wants. But it is also the default option. If the divorce deal is not approved, altered or put on hold, Britain will cease to be an EU member at 11pm London time on March 29.