On Tuesday, MPs in the House of Commons are expected to vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal with the EU.
Although, because it's Brexit and nothing is simple, the vote might be delayed and they might not. But let's assume they do. What happens next? Well...it's far from simple.
We've attempted to boil down the most likely options, in a bid to make some sense of the unfolding political carnage.
8. Theresa May's deal with the EU somehow gets through the House of Commons.
This isn't going to happen, is it? After all, everyone hates Theresa May's deal — Remainers, Leavers, Brussels, even, you'd assume, May herself by this point. We know that over 100 Tory MPs say they're planning to vote against it.
But. There are a couple of factors we should consider before we write off the possibility entirely.
One is pure desperation, from all concerned. MPs are now at the point where they're saying stuff like this in the House of Commons:
And striding joyfully hand in hand with desperation goes fear: MPs might hate May's deal, but you can bet a bigger proportion hate the idea of no deal more, and most are utterly terrified of being responsible for causing Britain to crash out of the EU.
We know, for a start, that campaigners have been targeting up to 20 Labour MPs they suspect could vote for the deal.
The deal's also starting to look like the hardest Brexit we could have. And even if it can't be improved through renegotiation (so we are told), it's possible to change elements of it through parliamentary amendments that the EU finds acceptable.
Finally, the most important point: Politicians just say stuff that isn't true. They told us Brexit would be easy. They suggested Theresa May would be removed. And May told us there wouldn't be a general election in 2017.
So maybe they're just saying they won't support the deal. Don't get too excited, but it's just possible that, because it looks like the least ugly option, a deal that pretty much no one likes will get through the Commons, and we can settle down to Christmas safe in the knowledge there will be bitter recriminations for many years to come.
You could hardly envisage a happier outcome. Just a shame it's not going to happen. Or is it?
Apocalypse rating: 💥
7. May loses the vote but we get to kick the can down the road a bit.
This is the option where Article 50, the process by which Britain leaves the EU, is extended, so that May — or whoever replaces her as prime minister — has time to fundamentally renegotiate the deal.
It would require agreement from the EU countries and a vote in the House of Commons. Assuming that all went through (and there is absolutely no indication it would — on the contrary, in fact), May would be free to carry on negotiating, while Britain remained in soul-crushing limbo a little while longer.
Which is great, except there is, always has been, and always will be clear daylight between what ground the EU and the Brexiteers will concede, and if a way of squaring the circle existed, you rather suspect it would have been found by now.
Apocalypse rating: 💥
6. May loses the vote, but the door opens to a different Brexit.
This all depends on what sort of course parliament indicates it wants to follow.
If a big enough bloc of MPs suggests, for example, that the Norway-type deal backed by some cabinet ministers could get through, then maybe the EU will adjust the text of the political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
In that case it's possible we could ignore the principle that MPs shouldn't vote twice on the same issue during a single sitting of parliament, in order to get the deal through.
The trickier option, however, is if MPs indicate they want significant changes made to the backstop agreement (the plan that stops there being a hard border in Ireland if there's no trade deal). In that case, it's much less likely to fly in Brussels.
Let's turn to the DUP, on whose votes May is reliant to stay in government just at the moment, to see how things are looking on that score.
Anyway — in this version of events, we aim to settle things in time for either the European Council a week later (unlikely) or the next one, in March next year.
It is, by all accounts, a course of action May's team are looking at closely. But the clock will be ticking all the while, and with consensus needed in parliament and Europe, there's a lot that can go wrong. In the worst-case scenario we go straight to no deal and don't even collect $200.
Apocalypse rating: 💥 with strong potential for 💥💥💥💥💥 down the line if we balls it up.
5. May loses the vote, and there's a Conservative leadership contest.
Remember those 48 letters that we heard so much about? What if...the failure of the deal is all it takes for that number to finally be reached? And what if...Theresa May loses the resulting leadership contest?
Alternatively, what if she suffers a defeat over the Brexit vote that's so crushing she simply feels she doesn't have the authority to continue, and quits?
None of these things are out of the question. But the thing is a) they don't solve any of the problems that got us into this pickle in the first place, and b) It's not like the Conservatives have a compelling unity candidate — a moderate Brexiteer, a character loved by all, a guiding light who could inspire the party's Leavers and Remainers to come together and pick their way through the unending forest that is Brexit.
Yeah, on second thoughts that person definitely doesn't exist.
Apocalypse rating: 💥💥
4. May loses the vote, then loses a no-confidence vote, but there isn't a general election — instead, there are parliamentary ~shenanigans~.
An under-discussed, plausible, and *really bloody chaotic* option. If the government loses a vote of no confidence, we're in somewhat uncharted territory, but according to the Institute for Government, a new government has to win a vote of confidence within 14 days. Otherwise it's general election time.
Here's the fun thing: What if the government that won the confidence vote wasn't the government we have now? What if it was another Tory government without May, or a different coalition entirely — or the extreme banter option: a government of national unity, with a front bench composed of Tory, Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, DUP, and god-only-knows-who-else MPs?
Thinking about how it might all shake out is a fun exercise, but it's all rather less likely than some of the other options listed, in part due to the fact MPs have seen what being in a coalition did to the Lib Dems.
No one wants to be sad Nick Clegg.
Apocalypse rating: 💥💥💥
3. May loses the vote and there's a general election.
So we're already weighing up a decidedly fruity option that falls firmly into the "banter" category.
Here are the ways it could happen:
– May calls a snap general election.
– Labour calls a vote of no confidence, and the government loses.
It's unlikely Labour has the numbers for the latter. But even if they fail to get a vote through, it doesn't necessarily mean no general election.
The last one was May's attempt to get a mandate to deliver Brexit. As you may recall, it didn't go so well. Why would she possibly go through all that again? A few reasons, actually. Internal polling reportedly suggests a degree of public sympathy for her position. Labour aren't exactly flying in the polls. And she desperately needs parliamentary authority to get out of this mess.
To make it happen, it would require her to win the support of two-thirds of MPs, and likely an extension to Article 50. But given Labour are keen on an election and the EU to break the deadlock, maybe she'll do it just for the warm feeling of actually getting something through parliament for once.
The chances are she won't. You have to ask how likely she thinks it would be that she'd even win, let alone come away with the kind of majority needed to deliver Brexit, given how divided her party is.
And perhaps the worst-case scenario for Britain would be another hung parliament, which would be like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, except if the Titanic was on fire as well as sinking, and the deck chairs all hated each other.
Apocalypse rating: 💥💥💥💥
2. May loses the vote and we have another referendum.
This is slowly starting to become the favourite option, despite it being the one, as BuzzFeed News revealed, that makes May lose her temper.
The big question here is the question itself. That's the reason this option is so fraught — it might well be that the question is "May deal or Remain?", so it's the only plausible way Britain remains in the EU. (It's theoretically possible parliament could vote for us to stay in, but few MPs would have the stomach for the backlash it would entail.)
It might also be that the deal passes, but with an amendment that would need a referendum to get it through. As we reported, some of May's aides think she could win by guaranteeing an end to free movement. For them, it's the only way she will be able to secure a mandate for her exit plan.
It's also understood that the Leave side are secretly making preparations too. Labour have also said they'd support it happening if there's no general election. And various pro-Remain campaigners have banged the drum so hard on this it's a wonder they've not passed out from exhaustion.
But all this is far from nailed on. Like renegotiating or a general election, it would probably need an extension to Article 50. The BBC, citing experts at University College London, thinks we'd have to wait 22 weeks before preparations had been made.
Then there's the question of how far it would settle things. Just imagine — IMAGINE — a world in which we vote to stay in the EU by 52%–48%. At that point, we could at least stop talking about ignoring the will of the people, because it's pretty clear the people don't have a sodding clue.
Apocalypse rating: Anywhere from 💥 to 💥💥💥💥 depending on the result.
1. May loses the vote and, eventually, it's no deal.
One of the strange things about Brexit is that it's not just one of the above options that increases the likelihood of no deal — it's all of them.
People have a lot of opinions about Brexit, and facts are in short supply, but here is one of them: Barring an unlikely intervention, Britain will leave the EU on March 29, 2019. And if a way through the deadlock hasn't been found by that point, it will be without a deal. It's this Mexican standoff that especially concerns officials — the chance we might "sleepwalk" into no deal is far from out of the question.
No-deal is starting to look less likely than it did a month ago, partly because parliament has begun to seize back more power, but it's not out of the question, and the reality is that fewer and fewer MPs think tweets like these are about fearmongering so much as they're genuinely about planning.
Granted, there are still prominent voices who say the potential chaos caused by no deal has been overstated. But they're certainly not saying it's a route we should be trying to go down.
It's undeniable the economy would take a hit, and likely the bulk of the pain would be suffered by the worst off in society. One rather suspects that MPs willing to take credit for Britain leaving without a deal will be in shorter supply than those looking to blame others.
So in that sense the no-deal "option" is like holding a gun to your head during a high-stakes poker game. You might make a mess by pulling the trigger, but it's not going to stop your opponent holding the aces.
Apocalypse rating: 💥💥💥💥💥
Alan White is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alan White at email@example.com.
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