Whatever happens now, we won’t be leaving the EU on March 29
The Conservative MP Peter Bone has an app on his phone which counts down – to the second – how long is left until the UK leaves the EU. At the time of writing, it’s
112 days, six hours, 36 minutes and 24 seconds. But should things go as expected when Theresa May’s ill-fated deal is voted on next week, he could need an update which extends the clock well past March 29 2019. For as support continues to drain for the Prime Minister’s “worst of both worlds” Brexit, it’s beginning to look inevitable that Article 50 will have to be extended.
This week was supposed to be the one in which unruly MPS started to come around to the PM’S deal. Instead, the number of Conservative MPS publicly against it has grown – and there’s little sign of Labour coming to May’s rescue. There’s now talk of amendments being added ahead of Tuesday’s vote to reduce the scale of defeat but even these scenarios don’t envisage the deal passing. Making matters worse is that fact that May appears to have no Plan B. Without a Christmas miracle, all roads now lead to an Article 50 extension. It’s something the EU is prepared to discuss if the deal is rejected next week as a way to avoid a no deal. But even if an alternative Brexit consensus is found in the coming weeks, an extension is likely to be required.
If the so-called People’s Vote campaigners get their way and put a second referendum on the table, it isn’t legally possible to have a vote before the end of March. Question testing alone – carried out by the Electoral Commission – usually takes 12 weeks.
Should Parliament’s Norway for Now group succeed in adding an amendment on the second vote on May’s deal instructing the Government to negotiate an Eea-style membership with the EU, it would take time to agree an update to the political declaration and have this ratified.
If the Government defeat on Tuesday is over 100 votes and a no-confidence vote follows, paving the way for a new Tory leader with a fresh plan to ditch the backstop, they would need time to try and reopen the negotiations or at the very least get a negotiated no deal under way.
Finally, even if the European Research Group gets its way and the Government calls the EU’S bluff and activates full no deal preparations, there are enough MPS in the Commons vehemently opposed to a no deal that they would try to extend Article 50 until an alternative course of action could be decided on. Labour has already backed such an option if May’s deal is voted down.
There’s one thing worth pointing out in all these scenarios. The reason Brussels is open to the idea of extending Article 50 is not to help Brexiteers in their quest for a cleaner, purer Brexit. Instead, it’s because they believe it’s the path to a softer Brexit – or, even better, no Brexit at all. If Peter Bone has to amend his countdown clock, there’s a chance it won’t count down to anything at all.