Brexit: what next?

I still have no idea what’s going to happen with regard to Brexit. I did not imagine and could not have imagined that the United Kingdom would find itself in such a precarious position so shortly before the Brexit date, and I fear that the UK may be sleep-walking towards the cliff edge and end up leaving the European Union without a deal, not because that is what people want or they consider such an outcome sensible, but because no one can agree on anything. There does not seem to be any majority for a clear path in Parliament, even though there is a majority against many things.

It is all good for Parliament to vote against no deal, as it will be debated today, but as far as I understand the situation, a no-deal Brexit will happen on 29 March, whatever Parliament says, because Article 50 dictates so, unless there is a ratified agreement with the EU, an extension of Article 50, or a revocation of Article 50. If no deal were to be taken off the table definitively, then the only thing the UK could do unilaterally is the revocation of Article 50, since the other two require the agreement of the EU. From press reports, the likely sequence of events is that MPs will vote against a no-deal Brexit and vote for an extension of Article 50. The big question is: then what?

The Government could try to pass Theresa May’s deal once again in the House of Commons. Who knows, it might be a case of third time lucky. Given the timescale, it is arguably the only available deal ensuring an orderly Brexit. That avoids no-deal Brexit and no Brexit. The UK could ask for an extension of Article 50, but there must be a clear trajectory and a definitive outcome by the end of the extension period, such as the acceptance of some sort of deal, or remaining in the EU, and not merely kicking the can down the road.

I generally think a referendum result can only be overturned by another referendum. Otherwise, people will question the legitimacy of political decision-making process. One may argue that the referendum was flawed (it probably was) or that it should not have taken place, but it did take place and it did produce a result that has been accepted as the expression of the will of the people at that time. A general election may determine the course and content, but overturning the result of a referendum is another matter.

A revocation of Article 50 without another referendum produces a situation where the Government and Parliament ignore the referendum result. At the same time, it smacks of bad faith in negotiation with the EU, when the UK invokes, revokes, and possibly reinvokes Article 50.

Perhaps the sensible way forward is an extension of Article 50 to conduct another referendum. Yet that is also problematic. What should be on the ballot paper? Remain or leave, just like the one before? Or multiple options, including the current deal? And how about the timing, especially with European Parliament elections this May? If the UK is still a member of the EU at that time, then it would have to take part. And if a referendum were to take place and the British electorate decide to stay in the EU after all, how could MEPs be elected?

Time is running out, and given the divisions and directionlessness in the country, the UK might accidentally find itself in the realm of no-deal Brexit.