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Brexit explainer: What just happened and what happens next?


By Jennifer McShane
12th Mar 2019
Brexit explainer: What just happened and what happens next?

After so many Brexit twists and turns, it looked like the UK had at last reached a deal with the EU on Monday evening, but it is now – as it stands – off the table. The news has just come through that a group of Conservative MPs have joined forces with the DUP’s Nigel Dodds to formally purpose that Brexit is delayed until May 22.

What just happened?

British Prime Minister Theresa May had reached an agreement with the EU on a package on Monday evening to try to reassure MPs about her Brexit deal (which has been rejected each time its been tabled). However, the House of Commons has, as predicted, rejected this package in a vote on Tuesday.

British MPs have rejected the revised Brexit deal by 391 to 242, a majority of 149.

The issue of the Irish backstop

The main issue appears to be concerns relating to the Irish border backstop, i.e, the guarantee that there will be no hard border.

To ensure there would be no hard Irish border – one where checks on goods movements are needed – the withdrawal agreement includes the backstop as an insurance policy, something which would apply unless and until some other way to avoid a hard border was found. This would be achieved by the UK staying in a basic customs unions with the EU and Northern Ireland following all of the EU’s customs and regulatory rules.

This is something that the Brexiteer group are largely against, arguing that the backstop provisions in the withdrawal agreement could see the UK “trapped” and stuck in a trading arrangement that they don’t want with the EU in the long-term.

With just 17 days left until the official break is due to take place, the rejection of May’s proposed deal for the second time does leave things in turmoil, to put it mildly.

European Commission president Mr Juncker had already warned that if MPs turned down the package agreed in Strasbourg on Monday, there would be “no third chance” to renegotiate.

What happens next?

MPs will vote on Wednesday on whether they want to leave the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration – in other words, a no-deal Brexit.

“The deal we have negotiated is the best and indeed only deal available”

Should MPs reject that (as is expected), there will be another vote on whether Parliament wants to seek an extension to Article 50 – delaying the UK’s departure beyond the current March 29 deadline. This has been formally proposed in parliament.

But May stressed that would not resolve the divisions in the Commons and could instead hand Brussels the power to set conditions on the kind of Brexit on offer “or even moving to a second referendum.”

She has said that she will not whip her MPs to vote in one way or another – there will be a free vote.

How long can the extension last for?

An extension requires the unanimous agreement of all 27 remaining member states, and Juncker has warned that it cannot stretch beyond May 23 unless the UK takes part in the European Parliament elections starting on that date.

Main photograph: Pexels