[this blog has been updated on 19 March to reflect reduced clarity about next steps and increased confusion in the UK government's Brexit strategy….]

On 12 March, the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement was defeated heavily in Parliament for the second time.

On 14 March, MPs voted to seek an extension to article 50, to delay Brexit.  They also voted against a proposal to spend some time  to explore what type of Brexit they could agree on. 

As things currently stand, UK law and EU rules specify that the UK will leave the EU on 29 March, with or without a deal.

What happens next?

Theresa May will now ask EU leaders for an extension to article 50 - delaying Brexit beyond 29 March.  

At some point before 29 March, Parliament will probably be asked to vote again on Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement - in the hope it will go through third time lucky.  Depending on how this vote goes:

a. Theresa May's agreement is approved by MPs before 29 March

If it is voted through, the UK government may ask the EU for a short extension to the article 50 process, until 30 June, to allow time to complete all the formal ratification procedures.  If EU leaders agree, Brexit day will be delayed until 30 June.  There is a small risk they will not agree (it requires unanimity).

The Government will then have to turn the withdrawal agreement into an Act of Parliament in April. If this goes smoothly then we will leave the EU on 30 June with a transition period until December 2020. 

There is a possibility that this ratification process could get stuck in the sort of Parliamentary limbo and trench warfare we have seen for the last four months.  If that happens, the UK could leave the EU on 30 June on a no-deal basis, with no transition and a hard Brexit.

b.     Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement is not approved by MPs 

If MPs again reject the deal, the Prime Minister is likely to request a longer extension to article 50, to allow time for MPs to identify an alternative approach that commands a majority.  EU leaders  may reject the request if they are not convinced the UK has a credible plan to solve the deadlock.  Or they may offer a very long extension, with strings attached.  The UK Government and MPs will then have to decide whether they are happy with the terms offered by the EU.  If not, we either have a fourth vote on Theresa May’s agreement to try to get it through and/or no-deal Brexit on 29 March.

The process decision tree looks something like this (bear in mind this is liable to change!):

So, it looks like the possible outcomes are: 

  • 29 March: UK leaves the EU with no-deal, or
  • 30 June: UK leaves the EU on basis of the withdrawal agreement or with no-deal, or
  • Nine months to four year’s time: an alternative deal or no-deal Brexit or no Brexit.

All the discussion in Parliament so far has really had only one tangible result: it has removed the possibility of leaving the EU on 29 March with a deal.

We will not have any certainty on what happens on 29 March until 21 March at the earliest - and it looks more likely we won't know until well into the week of 25 March.  My advice remains:  keep preparing for a no-deal Brexit (my Brexit Essentials guide has tips on what to do).

The good news is that we should know in two weeks whether or not we have a no-deal on 29 March!