Another tense Brexit week begins: What will happen next?

More non-binding indicative votes and talk of a general election as a 'no-deal' Brexit remains default option.

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    Pro-Brexit demonstrators are seen outside the Houses of Parliament on March 28, 2019 in London [Leon Neal/Getty Images]
    Pro-Brexit demonstrators are seen outside the Houses of Parliament on March 28, 2019 in London [Leon Neal/Getty Images]

    London, United Kingdom - At the start of another week, which was meant to be the first after the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union, the Brexit outlook is as uncertain as ever. 

    What is happening today?

    A second round of non-binding "indicative votes" on Monday aims to test support for alternatives to Prime Minister Theresa May's divorce deal with the EU.

    The votes will take place at 8 GMT, and results will come in at around 10pm.

    All eyes are on whether the vote will lead to MPs forcing May's hand towards a "softer Brexit", possibly leading to a general election.

    Parliament rejected all eight alternative options put to a vote last week. 

    Holding a second referendum and a customs union with the EU received the most support.

    On the day the country was originally scheduled to leave the EU, March 29, MPs voted down May's deal with the bloc for the third time. Unlike the previous two votes, this ballot was held on only one of two constituent parts of the deal, the withdrawal agreement, which sets out the terms of departure and includes a 20-month transition period.

    A non-legally binding political declaration laying out the future relationship between the UK and EU was not voted on. 

    May lost the vote by a margin of 58, down from 230 in January and 149 in March. 

    In a surprising move, May had told members of her own Conservative Party, which is bitterly divided over Brexit, that she would stand down if they backed her deal. But even that attempt to win over rebels who would rather see a "hard Brexit" proved insufficient.

    The prime minister could bring the agreement before Parliament for a fourth time this week. 

    Will Parliament finally find a consensus?

    A week ago, MPs voted to temporarily seize control over the parliamentary timetable from the government in an attempt to break the Brexit deadlock and advise on a way forward through a series of "indicative votes."

    MPs have tabled eight options for debate, but the speaker is unlikely to select again proposals that were voted down by large margins last week, such as leaving with no deal on April 12.

    The speaker is likely to select three or four options this time, leaving out proposals that were previously rejected by large margins, such as revoking Article 50 and leaving with no deal. 

    The idea of holding a confirmatory public vote on a Brexit deal received the most votes last week - something which was seen as a victory by campaigners for a so-called people's vote. The proposal will be debated again today.

    Labour's deputy leader, Tom Watson, renewed his call for the party to support a second referendum option.

    But a number of Labour MPs from leave-voting constituencies previously defied the party whip and voted against the proposal, making it difficult to see where additional votes could come from. An amendment seeking a second referendum could still be introduced at a later stage.

    Options for a "softer Brexit", particularly a customs union and the so-called Common Market 2.0, could win the decisive support of MPs who abstained in the last round of votes. 

    The latter would see the UK join the European Economic Area (EEA) and European Free Trade Association while being part of a customs union with the EU.

    "What's quite interesting is that Labour haven't tabled anything themselves," said Maddy Thimont Jack, a researcher at the Institute for Government in London, adding that could be key in determining Labour's position tonight.

    "It will be quite interesting to see whether this time they do decide to whip the Common Market 2.0.,” Thimont Jack added, noting that the proposal has been tweaked to "include some more Labour-friendly language."

    Labour has confirmed it will whip its MPs to vote in favour of the Common market 2.0 plan.

    But implementing the idea would entail negotiations with the four EFTA states - Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

    “The EU can't negotiate on behalf of the EFTA states. It can't make any commitments about whether this is a possible option for them,” Dr. Simon Usherwood, a reader in politics at the University of Surrey and deputy director at The UK in a Changing Europe think tank, told Al Jazeera.

    The UK would also need their agreement to enter a customs union with the EU on top of the single market integration that the EEA involves, which Usherwood said could be problematic.

    “It's not any more difficult than any other options involving the potential future relationship,” Usherwood continued. “But all options talked about tonight are about the future. All of them still require the current situation, the ending of UK membership, to be tidied up.”

    While EU leaders said they would be open to changing the political declaration in a matter of days, the UK would still have to pass the withdrawal agreement before the two sides negotiate a future relationship.

    Will today's votes change the course of Brexit?

    The votes are non-binding.

    Should MPs be successful in achieving a majority for an alternative course, they may seek to legislate for the government to seek a long extension to the Brexit deadline with the EU.

    Is a no-deal Brexit off the table?

    No.

    No deal remains the default option under Article 50, and the current Brexit deadline is April 12. 

    If no alternative option is agreed upon to make the case for a longer extension with the EU, the UK may "accidentally" crash out of the bloc in two weeks' time.

    The Irish border has been the main point of contention in the Conservative Party.

    Hard-Brexiteers fear the backstop protocol in the withdrawal agreement - an insurance policy designed to keep an open border in the island of Ireland - could tie to the UK to the EU's trade rules indefinitely. 

    The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland argues that it would create a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

    That border will have to be managed in case of a no-deal scenario. Germany and France have both scheduled meeting with the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, this week.

    The EU said in a statement last week it had completed its no-deal preparations.

    More than 170 Conservative MPs wrote to May this week to ask her to take the UK out of the EU "with or without a deal".

    Why is everyone talking about a general election?

    If Parliament agrees on a way forward that May can't endorse, the prime minister may decide to trigger a general election. However, a general election will need the approval of at least two-thirds of the British Parliament, and there's currently no appetite for it in the Conservative benches.

    Meanwhile, a number of cabinet ministers are openly preparing for a leadership challenge as the prime minister's position looks increasingly fragile.

    If the indicative votes process does lead to MPs choosing a "soft Brexit" scenario, it could put pressure on hard-Brexiters to vote for May's deal when she brings it back a fourth time. 

    In order to do that, she will need the speaker - who has previously ruled that the same deal couldn't be brought before the House twice - to allow it.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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