Possible Brexit outcomes still myriad as deadline looms

Prime Minister Theresa May has already delayed the meaningful vote by MPs on her deal once
By Jennifer McKiernan, Press Association Political Staff

As Brexit Day on March 29 creeps closer, agreement over the way the UK leaves the EU looks further away than ever.

British prime minister Theresa May has already delayed the meaningful vote by MPs on her deal once – despite three days of debate already having taken place in December – as she admitted her plan was unlikely to win support.

A fresh debate is due to start next week with a vote the week after, although there are reports Mrs May plans to delay the vote again to pile pressure on MPs as the deadline looms.

Delaying the vote for a second time would also allow last-minute concessions from the EU, perhaps with a promise on the Irish backstop that could satisfy some wavering supporters of the deal to get back on board.

Of course, there is always the possibility Mrs May could win a January vote, giving the UK some breathing space ahead of the biggest constitutional change in a generation and securing her leadership for the time being.

But the more likely option right now should the January vote go ahead as planned seems to be a crushing defeat for the prime minister.

Such a blow could lead to a general election, should the official opposition use the opportunity to call and win a vote of no confidence in the government.

Losing the vote would also probably spark a leadership contest, given a fractious Cabinet, splits between MPs and a restless grassroots base.

To avoid this, Mrs May may be persuaded by calls for another referendum on her deal, which would lead to yet more debate over which options are put to the public vote.

Both a general election, another referendum and a leadership contest may necessitate an extension to the Article 50 deadline, meaning Brexit Day is pushed back from March 29.

The last option if Mrs May's deal falls – and one she reportedly could prefer over either another election or referendum – is a no-deal Brexit, where the UK crashes out of the EU immediately at the end of March without any arrangements for its future relationships in place.

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