Brexit: The potential outcomes
It’s been an unprecedented week for the British Parliament; The government were held in contempt of Parliament for the first time in history for withholding Brexit legal advice against the will of the house, the government lost 3 votes in a day for the first time in nearly 40 years and Theresa May’s government is currently hanging by the thinnest metaphorical thread imaginable.
On Tuesday 11th MP’s will vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, negotiated at painful length over 2 years, but the government is expected to lose by anything up to 400 votes which would more than likely be the most devastating defeat for a sitting UK government in over a century.
You wouldn’t be alone in feeling a pang of sympathy for the Prime Minister given that she appears to have done her best to negotiate a deal which by most approximations has been almost impossible to get over the line and, certainly, was never likely to please everybody.
In some ways you might marvel at just how much she’s managed to please absolutely nobody. This isn’t the place to go into detailed analysis about the deal that’s been negotiated but currently, the ‘Irish backstop’ appears to be the biggest source of frustration for many MP’s.
Described as an insurance policy for keeping the Irish border open, the backstop comes into force if the UK is unable to negotiate a Free Trade Arrangement (FTA) before the end of the 2 year transition period. According to the legal advice of the Attorney General, which the government attempted to keep confidential, the UK has no ability to unilaterally withdraw from the arrangement meaning that theoretically, it could be kept in place indefinitely should the EU decide to.
If the government lose the vote on Tuesday, as they are widely expected to, then Britain hits unprecedented times once again, potentially causing a constitutional crisis not seen since the English Civil War.
It’s widely expected that there are five options now on the table for the government should they lose, which are:
A second MP’s vote
Should the Prime Minister lose the vote then the first option, and most likely, is for her to tweak the political declaration with the help of Brussels, or hope that the markets completely tank enough to panic MP’s into backing her deal in a second vote once minds are concentrated and the threat of ‘no deal’ chaos is real enough.
Potential problems with that are that unless the back stop is removed or the UK are given unilateral rights to withdraw from the back stop there’s little to no chance of enough MP’s backing the deal to give her a majority.
Renegotiate with Brussels
Another option would be to return to Brussels in the hope of winning some concessions in the EU given that her government is unlikely to be able to carry on without it. The hope would be that the EU are willing to concede in order to save her government.
The main issue with this is that the EU have categorically said that the deal cannot be renegotiated and is the only deal available. Whilst there’s a small chance Brussels could help the PM out, the most likely outcome would be the Prime Minister being humiliated by being turned down.
A general election
Labour have already publicly stated that they will call a vote of no confidence in the government should they lose the vote in order to force a general election.
There’s a few problems with this, however, as whoever wins the election is still unlikely to command a majority and unless Labour were to win a decent majority it’s unlikely they’d be able to get a deal through Parliament either.
Secondly, could the opposition, even with the support of all the other opposition parties, collect enough votes from Tory and DUP rebels to force an election? It’s unlikely as the Tories would probably lose and there’s little sense in voting to lose your job. The DUP, similarly, loathe Corbyn for his past associations with Irish republicans. Nigel Dodds, the DUP leader in Parliament, has publicly said that the DUP don’t fear another election but whether they would actually vote for one is another matter and, for now, the DUP seem willing to continue supporting the government.
A second referendum
Probably the most likely outcome, given the blockage at Parliament, would be to call another referendum. There are a multitude of issues at play with this option, not least the decision of what question would be on the ballot paper.
The likeliest, should Theresa May agree to one, would be a three-way of her deal, no deal, or remain. This would be done on first and second preferences, with whichever collects the most 1st and 2nd preferences winning.
Another issue is whether the EU would agree to postpone the Article 50 notification to leave for long enough for a referendum to be held, as the earliest it could conceivably be held would be after March 2019. According to The BBC “it can't just happen automatically. The rules for referendums are set out in a law called the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. There would have to be a new piece of legislation to make a referendum happen and to determine the rules, such as who would be allowed to vote.”
Those of the People’s Vote movement are confident that Remain would win a second vote, and most polling backs this up, but there is a real danger that putting the question back to the public could enrage enough people to back a no deal.
On the subject of no deal, if none of the above options are able to get through Parliament, there’s a real risk that the UK could simply crash out of the EU with nothing in place as this would be the default legal position if nothing else is agreed.
Depending on who you speak to or which newspaper you read is likely to influence how doomed you think the UK would be in this scenario but at the very least it looks as though this scenario would cause serious disruption for at least a few months.
In a worst case scenario, as forecast by the Bank of England, there could be a housing market crash, GDP could shrink at a worse rate than the 2008 financial crash and there could be food and medicine shortages, potentially causing chaos and social unrest.
Whether that would actually happen is the subject of heated debate but it has to be said that any scenario which has that even as a potential outcome should be seen as highly undesirable.
Come back to us on Wednesday 12th to see which option we get.