British Prime Minister Theresa May holds a press conference after announcing that a negotiated deal had been reached with the European Union.
LONDON – Britain finally approves a deal to leave the European Union. After months of fraught negotiations, Britain rejects Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May abruptly resigns. She defies calls to do so. There’s a snap general election. There’s a new Brexit referendum. There’s no vote at all. There are two.
All the above options and more are possible if and when Britain’s Parliament votes on whether to formally accept a deal that would see the United Kingdom leave the 28-nation economic and political bloc next March. The vote was supposed to take place Tuesday, but May postponed it Monday to avoid defeat.
May told lawmakers she would seek “additional assurances” from the EU over the deal. No new date for the vote was given. The British pound hit a 20-month low against the dollar at $1.2515 as investors reacted nervously to the political gridlock.
There were earlier signs things were not going as planned.
“Of course we can improve this deal, and the prime minister is seeking to improve this deal,” British Environment Secretary Michael Gove told BBC radio Monday.
“It will be an important week for the fate of #Brexit,” Donald Tusk, the Polish politician who serves as the head of the European Council, the body that sets the EU’s overall political direction and priorities, said in a tweet Sunday after a phone call with May.
Tusk could have added: Nobody has any idea where Brexit will stand by the end of it.
After May abandoned the vote, Tusk said the EU would not renegotiate the deal, although it was willing to “facilitate U.K. ratification.” Tusk called a meeting of the European Council in Brussels for Thursday. He said “time is running out.”
May and the EU already signed off on the critical issues accompanying the country’s EU divorce, such as how much Britain will need to pay to leave the bloc (about $50 billion), what rights EU nationals living in Britain will have after the separation in March and the thorny question of the land border between Northern Ireland (part of Britain) and Ireland (part of the EU). Decades of EU-facilitated frictionless trade and travel across the 300-mile-long strip of land is a key cog in ensuring peace between Northern Ireland’s Irish Catholic community and its British Protestant one.
The easiest option for May is a straight pass, which would mean Britain would leave the EU on March 29, 2019, although there would probably be a two-year transition period.
British lawmakers – who dislike May’s plan for reasons ranging from protests that it doesn’t go far enough to disentangle Britain from the EU to complaints that they never wanted Brexit in the first place – are likely to vote down the draft deal.
President Donald Trump, who called Brexit “a good thing,” said May’s proposed Brexit agreement “sounds like a great deal” for the EU.
If the vote fails – if it even happens – it would open a dizzying array of Brexit-related possibilities:
- If May loses the vote by a relatively small margin, she could go back to EU leaders yet again and ask for additional concessions in a bid to win over her skeptics, then send any revised terms back to the 650-seat chamber and ask it to reconsider.
- If she loses by a large majority, say 100 votes or more, May could offer to hold a second Brexit referendum to ask the public whether it wants to remain in the EU or exit. The first referendum, in 2016, was close (52 percent vs. 48 percent backed Brexit), and though polls show momentum has swung toward the anti-Brexit camp, it’s still within the margin of error.
- Another possibility in the event May loses by a large majority is that she’ll call a general election and effectively make the contest a proxy vote on her EU deal. The idea behind this would be to increase her extremely slim parliamentary majority, which is propped up by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. The plan could backfire and leave May’s parliamentary math worse off than before.
- May could be forced out of office. It would take 48 lawmakers from her ruling Conservative Party to trigger a vote of no-confidence. A major parliamentary defeat might be enough for staunchly pro-Brexit challengers to make a move against her. Opposition parties could band together to try to force a no-confidence vote.
- She could just resign. Though May has studiously stayed on the path of vowing to “deliver” Brexit, she never wanted it and even campaigned against it in 2016’s vote. May said Monday she would “get this deal over the line.”
- May could simply accept defeat and, assuming she wins any challenge her to leadership, decide that Britain will leave the EU without a withdrawal deal. This would be a form of default and mean that the moment Britain left the EU in March, it would have no formal arrangements in place with the bloc for how to deal with trade, food standards, road safety, medicines and thousands of other rules and regulations that affect people every day. Four million EU nationals in Britain would technically not have permission to work and live there.
There’s another easy option for May, who spent days insisting the vote would go ahead despite high levels of opposition from parliamentarians inside and outside her party. It’s one she’s highly unlikely to pursue, partly because it could be perceived as subverting the democratic process.
The European Court of Justice, the EU’s top court, ruled Monday that Britain can unilaterally halt Brexit without having to consult the EU’s other 27 members.
If it wanted to, in other words, Britain could just say, “Stop Brexit, I want to get off.”
BMW announced its fully electric, fully autonomous concept car this week at the Los Angeles Auto Show. In an interview with The Associated Press, CEO Harald Krueger discussed Brexit and the future of electric vehicles. (Nov. 28)
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