No-Deal, No Brexit, and the Withdrawal Agreement all remain on the table.
- On March 13, 2019, UK Members of Parliament voted 321 to 278 to rule out a No-Deal Brexit in any scenario. MPs had earlier on Wednesday voted in favour of rejecting No-Deal. This was yet another attempt to convince Parliament to accept the Brexit “Withdrawal Agreement” that it had negotiated with the EU and forced a final vote to try to get No-Deal back on the table as the default option if the Withdrawal Agreement was (again) rejected.
- The approved motion against No-Deal has no legal force and may not prevent a No-Deal exit. However, it carries political force, because it demonstrated a rebellion by members of the Prime Minister’s own party. Four ministers in her Cabinet abstained in the late vote.
What happens next:
- MPs will vote today (March 14, 2019) at 5pm UK time on the possibility of extending Article 50 (the formal mechanism for leaving the EU) and therefore delaying Brexit. The UK Government motion suggests seeking a delay to Brexit until 30 June 2019 if Parliament is able to approve a deal to leave the EU by 20 March 2019. The motion notes that if UK Parliament has not approved the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement by 20 March 2019, then it is likely the European Council would require a clear purpose for any extension. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has said that the UK must show “a credible justification for a possible extension and its duration”. It is not entirely clear at this juncture what merits a “credible justification.” Commentary suggests it could mean granting the UK time to hold a General Election or Second Referendum on Brexit. The European Court of Justice has ruled that it would be legal for the UK to unilaterally revoke Article 50 and to cancel Brexit.
- If UK Parliament supports the extension, the Prime Minister will formally ask European leaders for the Article 50 process to be extended. The EU’s 27 heads of state and government would have to then decide unanimously at the EU summit next Thursday, 21 March 2019, to agree to the request.
- There is no consensus regarding how the EU will respond to such a request. It too would face a dilemma: a short extension is seen as heightening the chances of the UK tumbling out of the EU just before the European Parliament elections on 23-26 May 2019. Conversely, a long extension could potentially result in the EU being bogged down in Brexit for months or years. Earlier, Tusk stated that he will urge EU leaders to back a long extension to Article 50 if the UK cannot agree a Brexit plan.
- Per the above, the situation remains incredibly fluid, with No-Deal, No Brexit and the proposed Withdrawal Agreement all still on the table.