After the British government lost the parliamentary vote last Tuesday on the divorce deal with the EU by a margin of 230 votes, the largest one in recent British history, UK is facing four uncertain scenarios. The first one, new parliamentary elections, can be excluded for the time being after Prime Minister Theresa May survived a no-confidence vote the following day by a small margin of 325 to 306. She told MPs that she would “continue to work to deliver on the solemn promise to the people of this country to deliver on the result of the referendum and leave the European Union”.
Asked by their views about what will happen now, MPs from both camps have no clue. In principle, there are three options: a second referendum, a hard no-deal exit and some form of deal. Public opinion in the UK has sobered after the first referendum when it was led to believe that leaving EU was an easy thing which would not damage the economy.
If a new referendum would be held, a majority would probably vote for remaining in the EU. “I would be delighted if there was a second referendum, but I think it’s unlikely to happen,” said Philippe Legrain to The Brussels Times. He is a senior visiting fellow at the London School of Economics’ European Institute and writes regularly in the magazine.
For a second referendum to happen, the government would first need to table the requisite legislation. “Reneging on May’s commitment would enrage Conservative MPs and potentially even lead a handful to vote with Labour to topple the government. In any case, it’s not clear that there is a parliamentary majority for a second referendum”, he says.
The default option is that the UK will leave the EU without a deal on 29 March. If Parliament doesn’t approve the exit deal by then, and the government doesn’t seek and obtain from the EU an extension of the Article 50 exit deadline, the UK will crash out of the EU without a deal with catastrophic consequences.
But there is also overwhelming parliamentary opposition to such a chaotic, catastrophic outcome, he thinks. “So if faced with a last-minute, cliff-edge, binary choice between deal and no deal, deal would surely win.”
Accidents can also happen, he admits. “So the risk of a no-deal Brexit is not zero. A second referendum might happen. But the most likely scenario is still that Britain will exit the EU with a deal that looks very much like the one MPs have just overwhelmingly rejected,” he concludes, hinting that the Withdrawal Agreement might be renegotiated.
The Brussels Times