March 21, 2019 / 12:36 PM / 8 months ago

With time running short, what happens next on Brexit?

LONDON (Reuters) - The March 29 deadline for leaving the European Union is looming and with no Brexit deal yet approved by parliament, it is expected to be a tumultuous few days in which several different outcomes remain possible.

FILE PHOTO: British and EU flags flutter outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

The last week could end with Britain having agreed a short delay to Brexit, a much longer extension to the Article 50 negotiating period, leaving the bloc without a deal or even having canceled Brexit altogether.

Below is what is due to happen next:


Lawmakers are due to debate a government motion saying that parliament has considered a statement made by Prime Minister Theresa May on March 15 which set out the government’s next steps on Brexit, including its plan to seek a delay to Brexit.

They are likely to put forward proposed changes, known as amendments, to this motion setting out alternative ways forward on Brexit. These are expected to include a proposal to approve May’s deal only if it is put to a public vote.

While amendments are not legally binding, instead simply exerting political pressure on May to change course, lawmakers could use one to attempt to change the rules of parliament to wrest control of the Brexit process from the government.

They could even use an amendment to seek a vote on revoking Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty to cancel the entire Brexit process.


May has said it is her intention to bring her deal back to parliament for a third vote. European Council President Donald Tusk said it would be possible to grant Britain a short delay to Brexit if parliament approves it next week.

The government is yet to schedule a day for a vote, although a government source said that Thursday, the day before Britain is due in law to leave the EU, would be “a bit tight”. Tuesday is the day most widely expected.

Commons Speaker John Bercow has ruled that the government can not bring forward proposals for a vote that are substantially the same as those already defeated twice before, but this is not ultimately expected to prevent a third vote if lawmakers want one to happen.

May needs to win over at least 75 lawmakers to get her deal approved. At the moment that looks unlikely, but with the prospect of a no-deal exit looming, more may swing behind her.


Last week, May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, promised that if the government’s deal was not approved and Britain was facing a long delay to Brexit, the government would give parliament time to consider the way forward.

“In such a scenario the government ... would facilitate a process in the two weeks after the March European Council to allow ​the House to seek a majority on the way forward,” he said.

This has been interpreted as so-called indicative votes, which would see lawmakers vote on a variety of possible Brexit outcomes to see if there is a majority for any option.

May has also said that if her deal is not passed, parliament will “have to decide how to proceed”.

Lawmakers could seek, through an amendment on Monday 25 March, to force the government to hold indicative votes next week if they were concerned it may not happen otherwise.


The EU’s Tusk has said that if needed he would not hesitate to call a summit of EU leaders in Brussels next week.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that if May’s deal is not approved next week, the EU could hold an emergency summit next week to offer Britain a long delay to Brexit with potentially onerous conditions such as holding another referendum.


Britain is due in law to leave the EU at 2300 GMT on Friday 29 March. If no deal is reached or delay, short or long, agreed to, this will happen by default.


If May succeeds in winning parliament’s approval for her exit deal and agreeing a delay to Brexit with the EU, parliament must pass the legislation required to change the exit date in law before March 29.

This can be done via secondary legislation, known as a Statutory Instrument, and would need the approval of both parliament’s lower chamber, the House of Commons, and upper chamber, the House of Lords. May’s spokesman said the government expected this could be done in one or two days.

Editing by Stephen Addison

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