Theresa May is in trouble. More than that, the whole country is in trouble. Last week the government lost its vote to pass the withdrawal agreement, a 500-page legal document taking the UK out of the EU in an orderly fashion. She is to hold another vote on January the 29th (if she does not delay this one), while currently seeking consultation with other party leaders and MPs of different views both within and outside the Conservative Party, in an attempt to pass the deal.
This, however, is futile. Should Theresa May manage to get the deal to pass on the 29th of January, even if she got it to pass today, there still would not be enough time to pass the 5 major bills and 600 statutory instruments (a form of legislation) that make up the withdrawal agreement before Brexit day, 29th March.
Come the 29th of March, there are two outcomes. Either a “hard Brexit” in the form of no deal, or an extension/revocation of article 50. Should the government seek an extension of article 50, the 27 member states of the EU will confer as to whether to grant this request or not. The EU has said previously that they will not grant an extension without a good reason. Theresa May’s schedule is unlikely to qualify. This means that Theresa May’s deal, even if it had parliamentary support, is dead on its knees.
So what are the other options? A new referendum or a changing of Theresa May’s red lines, allowing for the negotiation of a different withdrawal agreement, could persuade the EU to grant an extension to article 50. EU officials have stated that they won’t grant an extension beyond the European parliamentary elections from starting May 23rd. A new referendum takes at least 22 weeks to organise, according to usual parliamentary procedure. So if a new referendum is to be called, the UK must request extending article 50, the EU must agree, and parliament must legislate the referendum (choosing and agreeing upon the question). Should a referendum be announced on the day of you reading this, there will already be less than 16 weeks. Thus, the option of a second referendum can also be discarded. That means that the one and only for the Prime Minister is to change her Red Lines.
She has shown great reluctance to do so, insisting that no deal must always be an option, that we must leave the customs union and cease freedom of movement. If she does compromise on one of her red lines, she will need to re-negotiate with the EU, get a new deal, pass it through parliament and get all 5 major bills and 600 statutory instruments through, all done before the 29th March, or the 23rd May with an article 50 extension. Not impossible, but again unlikely. Therefore, it can be safely stated that at this point, no deal is looking inevitable.
There is one option, the unspeakable option, which must be discussed. Article 50 can be revoked by the UK at any time before March 29th, 11pm. This would provoke widespread anger amongst Brexit supporters should this happen, but it is worth comparing the consequences of no Brexit to a no-deal Brexit.
If no deal Brexit went through, the UK would suffer short term disruption to supply chains for food, medicine, manufacturing parts, seasonal labour and much more. Betting agencies have started taking bets for the first food item to be officially rationed by the UK government. Travel in and out of the UK would be made more difficult, with the EU limiting UK flights in and out of Europe and the channel tunnel is on course to be closed indefinitely. Hostility and hate crime against ethnic minorities is likely to increase, as it has consistently since June 23rd, 2016. Some civil unrest and riots are being anticipated by the government whom are preparing to put 3500 military staff on the streets after Brexit day to retain civil order. The benefits to a no deal are of course that the 2016 referendum pledge is fulfilled, no divorce bill as with May’s deal and the ability for the UK to make new laws that would replace or change those we currently obey under the EU.
If article 50 is revoked, larger civil unrest is anticipated along with a rise in hate crime. Trust in politics is likely to fall further given the subversion of democracy as perceived by voters, particularly Brexit voters. However, life would carry on as normal, no food shortages or medical rationing, our international reputation and influence would start to be somewhat restored and business investment should return to the UK. The UK government could once again turn its attention to pressing domestic issues including rising homelessness, the NHS funding crisis and housing shortages. The backlash from upset voters is the unknown variable in the cancel Brexit equation and so we must make a judgement as to whether this newly built resentment is worth the economic benefits and political stability from staying in the EU, or not.
Whatever they decide, they must do so soon. The clock is ticking.