What­ever hap­pens now, we won’t be leav­ing the EU on March 29

The Daily Telegraph - - Comment - fol­low Katy Balls on Twit­ter @katy­balls; read more at tele­graph.co.uk/opin­ion katy balls

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.

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