The UK is due to leave the EU in 15 days time. But MPs have voted to delay exit day. So, what on earth happens now?
How long is the delay?
The vote authorises Theresa May to ask the EU to extend Article 50 until June 30 – that is, if MPs vote in favour of her Brexit deal when it is put to a vote for a third time next week. The short delay would be to allow the necessary legislation to be passed.
But, if MPs once again reject the PM’s deal, May has warned a longer extension will be necessary to work out what to do instead.
This would also mean the UK having to take part in the European parliament elections (and re-electing MEPs).
The prospect of a lengthy 21-month delay will pile pressure on eurosceptic Tory MPs to vote for May’s deal to ensure Brexit happens this year.
Will the EU agree?
To extend Article 50, the Brussels has to say yes. It probably will. But EU leaders have said the UK must provide a “credible justification” for extending. Brussels wants to know what the UK wants, not just what it does not want.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said this morning he would appeal for EU leaders to agree to a “long” extension if the UK needs one to come up with a new Brexit plan. Simon Coveney, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, said a long extension would give the UK a “reflection period” about what it wants. It takes only one EU member state to veto an extension.
What do MPs want?
It’s still very unclear.
So what next?
All this has to be agreed very soon. A decision by Brussels to grant an extension would be made at the EU summit on Thursday March 21.
Could there still be a no-deal?
MPs voting against no-deal on Wednesday evening was an expression of opinion. But it did not change the law. No-deal remains the default outcome if an agreement between the UK and EU is not signed by exit day – whenever that is, delay or not.
Will there be another general election?
Downing Street has said it is “not preparing for and we do not want a general election”.
But that does not mean one will not happen.
Charles Walker, a senior Tory backbencher, has said May will have to hold one. “It is not sustainable, the current situation in parliament,” he warned.
Labour has already tried and failed once to force a general election by tabling a vote of no confidence in the government.
But Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, said this week the party would “take every opportunity” to do it again if it looked like it could win. And one Tory backbencher said today he would “seriously consider” backing a fresh bid by Jeremy Corbyn to get rid of May as PM.
A significant number of MPs want a second referendum. But at the moment, not a majority of them.
On Thursday evening MPs voted on an amendment to consider a people’s vote, but it was rejected, which makes it very unlikely unless Brexit is delayed by much longer – 21 months for example.
This is partly because there is not enough time for parliament to legislate for a public vote before March 29, or June 30 (after the delay).
A long extension however, could provide enough breathing space for a so-called people’s vote.
Will Article 50 be revoked?
Technically the British government can unilaterally decide to cancel Brexit by revoking Article 50. It does not have to get the EU to agree. But this seems the least likely of all options.
Will Theresa May resign?
Theresa May survived an attempt by some Tory backbenchers to oust her in December. Under party rules that means she is safe from another challenge for 12 months.
But another defeat for her deal, a third in a row, could lead May to decide the game is up and that it is time to quit. The Conservatives would then have to pick a new leader to replace her as prime minister.
Tory MP George Freeman piled on the pressure today by suggesting the Commons would be more likely to vote for her deal on the condition she promised to quit after it was ratified.