Leading article

Theresa May runs out of Brexit options

When Theresa May initially described the decision facing MPs in the much anticipated Westminster vote which had been due to take place later today as `my deal, no deal or no Brexit', she may well have sincerely believed that the first option was still achievable.

As it became clear that her proposal was heading for certain defeat, prompting its last minute shelving in hugely embarrassing circumstances yesterday, many of her bitter internal Conservative opponents focused their attention on the second possibility of departing from the EU without an agreement.

However, it is Mrs May's third scenario - that the type of Brexit envisaged when the leave camp narrowly won the 2016 referendum never actually happens - which is steadily rising to the top of the political agenda.

A no deal EU withdrawal would be an outcome so disastrous in every respect that a majority of MPs from all parties can be firmly expected to prevent it from becoming a reality.

Those Brexit supporters, including prominent DUP figures, who still believe that some form of significant renegotiation with Brussels can follow are ignoring the regular, direct and unanimous declarations to the contrary from EU leaders.

It is striking that the DUP is putting such faith in the judgment of the likes of the international trade secretary Liam Fox, who infamously claimed last year that the task of completing a comprehensive arrangement with the EU would be `the easiest in human history' and the former Brexit minister David Davis who repeatedly suggested that the entire process would be `simple'.

A much more plausible theory was put forward by a close ally of Mrs May and fellow cabinet member, Amber Rudd, who said last week that, if the prime minister's plan did not succeed today, she would favour what is referred to as the Norway Plus model, which involves staying in the European Economic Area.

There are growing indications that such a proposition would gain cross party backing, even though in the eyes of many observers it means effectively dropping the key elements of a withdrawal.

Yesterday's ruling by the European Court of Justice that the UK can simply change its mind and entirely cancel Brexit, without having to seek the permission of the other 27 EU members, will also have been widely noted.

The next logical step, assuming that Mrs May rules out an extremely risky general election, would be putting the final blueprint to the electorate through a second referendum, which, despite all the denials from Downing Street, has always been the last lifeline available to her.

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