March 29 is finally here – the day Britain should have finally left the European Union after years of referendum campaigning, drawn-out negotiations and late night podium speeches from the prime minister.
But instead of a day of celebration for Brexiteers – some of whom spent the last two weeks marching from Sunderland to London for what should have been a victory rally in Parliament Square – an exhausted Prime Minister Theresa May is still desperately trying to flog her Brexit deal.
On Friday afternoon, members of Parliament (MPs) will once again vote on the prime minister’s plan – but with one big difference. Unlike the first two meaningful votes, only the withdrawal agreement – the part which sets out the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU – will be voted on.
In a bid to finally push May’s deal through the House of Commons, the government revealed yesterday that the political declaration, which sets out the framework for the future trade relationship, would not be included in the ballot.
But what does this mean for Brexit – and what will happen if MPs once again refuse to back the deal? Or if – against all the odds – the prime minister is finally granted a victory?
Why Aren’t MPs Voting On The Whole Brexit Deal?
There are two reasons. One – that May only needs to get MPs to back the withdrawal agreement in order to get EU leaders to agree to delay Brexit until May 22.
The second is a bid by the prime minister to peel off some votes from Labour MPs, with the opposition party – and its leader – actually supporting the terms of the withdrawal agreement. (It’s what the government wants the UK’s future relationship with the EU to look like that they’re less keen on.)
But the move has sparked anger among Labour MPs, with many accusing May of trying to force them into a “blind Brexit”.
What Happens If MPs Vote Down The Deal?
Well, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time. But the big thing at stake this time is the date the UK will leave the EU.
If the Commons votes down the withdrawal agreement, the UK will only be able to extend Article 50 until April 12. (As decided by EU leaders at a summit last week).
Michel Barnier – the EU’s chief negotiator – has already warned that the country will be expected to “indicate a way forward” before then.
The two main options are likely to be: 1. Crash out of the EU without a deal; *or*
2. Agree to a long extension and take part in European Parliament elections. (Neither choice is likely to be *super* popular.)
What Happens If Theresa May… Wins?
Firstly, everyone would have to pick their jaws up off the floor. With the DUP still refusing to back the deal, May is unlikely to be able to be able to scrape together a majority, despite some notable Tory Brexiteers (we’re looking at you BoJo) finally agreeing to support the prime minister.
A surprising victory for May – who announced this week that she would step down as leader after the UK had left the EU – would see the UK secure a Brexit delay until May 22.
But there would still be work left to do. Until MPs also back the political declaration, the UK would not be allowed to leave the EU, with both parts of the deal needing to get official consent.
We’re sorry to say, it’s still far from over.