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Ten days to Brexit: what happens if the UK does not leave on 29 March?

The Guardian logo The Guardian 19/03/2019 Peter Walker Political correspondent
A protester carrying flags walks near the Houses of Parliament. © AFP/Getty Images A protester carrying flags walks near the Houses of Parliament.

It is 10 days before the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union. Currently we do not know when, or if, Brexit will take place; if it does happen then under what, if any deal; or even, after John Bercow’s ruling, whether the government can put its plan again to MPs if it wants to do so. So what could happen next?

What is the government’s next move?

At the moment we don’t know: following the Speaker’s surprise intervention on Monday, the only ministerial response has been to say that the government needs to “look at the details of the ruling”, and see what can be done.

Related: May to force third vote on Brexit, minister says

© Reuters

What’s due to happen this week?

Tuesday had been considered the possible date for Theresa May’s third attempt to get her Brexit plan through the Commons. Now, all attention is focused on the European Council summit on Thursday and Friday, at which the PM will desperately try to seek a new concession from the EU – and also discuss the length and terms of the extension to the departure period. The next steps will depend on that.

Related: May admits UK in 'crisis' over Brexit as she begs Brussels to postpone departure - with just 10 days left

May admits UK in 'crisis' over Brexit as she begs Brussels to postpone departure - with just 10 days left © Evening Standard May admits UK in 'crisis' over Brexit as she begs Brussels to postpone departure - with just 10 days left

Could May just try for a third vote anyway?

In theory, but it seems a tough ask. If the DUP suddenly agree to the plan, bringing some Conservative Brexiter MPs with them, meaning her deal could potentially pass the Commons, there would be a temptation for the government to present the motion and call Bercow’s bluff. On Tuesday the Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, said he believed even an extension to the departure deadline could be sufficient to allow a new vote. But Bercow had been seemingly clear – to circumvent his ruling would need more than just a change to the politics surrounding the deal, it would need something different within the actual motion.

What other options are open to the government?

One being considered is a “paving vote” – a vote by MPs to say whether or not they wanted to consider the Brexit deal again. If this was passed, it would place pressure on Bercow to relent. Another mooted idea would be asking the Queen to prorogue parliament and start a new session – Bercow’s ruling is only that the Brexit plan cannot be put to MPs again in the same session. But on Tuesday Barclay said he did not see involving the Queen as “a realistic option”.

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Will Brexit be delayed?

Yes, although we already knew this, after May’s vote was defeated last week, and MPs then voted to rule out no deal on 29 March. There is speculation May will ask the EU for a long extension of a year or more, but with the option to shorten this if her deal is subsequently passed by MPs. One key deadline to look out for is 11 April – this is the last day by which the government will have to set in place plans for new European elections in May, which will be needed if the delay goes beyond the summer.

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Could we have European elections?

It’s possible, and electoral officials and parties are now urgently preparing for this, teeing up returning officers and selecting potential candidates. Parties are prepared for a possible backlash from leave voters if the polls do take place, with both Ukip and Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party pledging to put up full slates of candidates.

Might it all end in a general election?

At the moment the chances of this appear not much greater than they have been for the last few months – that is to say it’s perfectly possible given the endless deadlock, if not necessarily imminent. One potential change to this could happen if a long-term delay was agreed, giving the various warring Brexit factions, particularly in the Conservative party, a chance to jostle for position and even to seek to depose May.

Could Brexit be stopped altogether?

That has been May’s warning to the Brexiter MPs blocking her deal – if it was not passed, the other options would be a long delay or possibly no Brexit at all. This would all depend on an eventual second referendum, which would include a “remain” option. The prospects for this seem relatively slim now, but as with everything in Brexit, a lot can change very rapidly.


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