What does it mean for business when the "meaningful" vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal is (probably) lost tomorrow? I’ve tapped my Westminster network on both sides of the aisle to work out what happens next, and the consensus is resounding: the ball will be kicked only a short distance down the road until June at the latest.
A departure may occur now or more likely then, but at the latest by the summer. So the government’s offering Parliament extra votes on no deal and delay is a device to avoid an immediate departure and buy more time to come up with an annex/codicil to the backstop. The probable outcome is therefore to stay on course but with a short delay…
….unless one of the EU 27 refuse the short extension, which would then lead to a two year delay and the PM’s immediate resignation. The biggest risk here is a shift to a right wing government in the upcoming Spanish elections (on April 28), as they may seek to re-open the Gibraltar issue. Gove, I understand, is front-runner if May resigns.
That said, I still believe a short procedural delay, with a third meaningful vote, is most likely as it suits all parties – carry on carrying on until the vote goes through or time really does run out.
Extension beyond the end of June would mean the UK would have to elect new MEPs in the EU's July elections, to howls of indignation. These would likely be Eurosceptics – the EU doesn’t want or need any more of them, hence their desire to keep the delay short.
The European Research Group is split on what to do. Some want to back May’s deal and use the next round of negotiation to argue for a free trade agreement. Others want to stick where they are and push back to leave with no deal. Parliament won’t allow that to happen though.
The government still expects some support from Labour but not yet in the numbers they want. In addition expect encouraging noises about a future codicil/annex to prepare the ground for losing this round, and a small shift in the government's favour since the first vote.
In my opinion, a deal within the new timetable is still most likely – March 29 was always a UK deadline rather than an EU one. But if the can keeps getting kicked down the road for years this will turn into a Dickens novel.
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