What next for Brexit? Three main scenarios

2019-01-15 14:45
Anti-Brexit supporters hold European Union flags as they demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament. (Oli Scarff, AFP)

Anti-Brexit supporters hold European Union flags as they demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament. (Oli Scarff, AFP)

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What next? With the Brexit deal between Britain and the EU facing defeat in the British parliament in a crucial vote on Tuesday, that's the question on everyone's lips.

Here are the three main scenarios facing Britain while the clock ticks down to March 29, 2019 – the day it is scheduled to depart the European Union after 46 years:


This is the Brexit that the British government and EU leaders want – and one which many MPs in the British parliament object to.

The deal has been rejected by some of British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservatives as well as the opposition Labour and Liberal Democratic parties for either keeping Britain tied too closely or too remotely to the European Union.

May promised lawmakers she would wring concessions from Brussels but a series of clarifications in a letter from EU leaders on Monday failed to persuade many skeptics.

There appears to be little chance of victory for May when MPs vote on the same draft on Tuesday, with speculation focused more on the likely scale of defeat.

If it loses the vote, the government has hinted it might simply reintroduce slightly tweaked versions of the same deal until parliament accepts it.


This is billed as the doomsday scenario that threatens to trigger a recession in Britain and markedly slow the European Union's economic growth.

It is the default option if the British parliament votes against the deal and there are no other solutions.

May's agreement was meant to keep trade rules between the world's fifth-biggest economy and its largest export market almost unchanged for a transition period running to the end of 2020.

A sudden shift to different standards would impact almost every economic sector – and possibly see the costs of everyday products in Britain rise as well as create disruption at logistical hubs such as ports.

The government has conducted visible displays of its ramped-up no-deal preparations over the past few weeks, but many MPs are promising to prevent such a scenario, should May be defeated.

The Sunday Times said a group of senior cross-party backbench rebels were plotting to change House of Commons rules to enable them to override government business if the deal falls.

Second referendum

EU supporters have been calling for another vote ever since the first one backed Leave by 52 to 48% in June 2016.

There is no law keeping Britain from doing it all over again, but many question whether this would be democratic.

It also threatens to be just as divisive, with opinion polls showing the country is still split over the issue.

The first step would be to extend Britain's departure date, with bookmakers rating such an outcome an 80% likelihood, even before the vote.

The EU is reported to be mulling an extension.

Calls for another vote have ramped up over the last few months.

Such a scenario would provoke huge anger from Leave supporters.

The complex manoeuvres required to force another vote would also ratchet up tensions inside and outside of Westminster.

May has warned another vote "would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics".

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