THERESA May faces a £39billion question if MPs vote down her Brexit deal this week. How will she deliver on the referendum result?
The PM will have three days to produce an answer — but the choices are stark and she’s fast running out of lifelines.
With the Brexit buzzer primed to go off in 75 days, she will be an isolated and lonely figure as the nation watches her tackle the biggest conundrum in modern political history.
But this is no TV game show and the stakes for Britain’s future are enormous.
Nearly three years after 17.4million people voted to leave the EU, Mrs May will soon be forced to decide whether to hand over that £39billion divorce cheque or go for broke.
The drama will begin to unfold on Tuesday night, when MPs are almost certain to reject her hated departure deal.
Her first call is likely to go to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to plead for a sweetener to boost support for her blueprint[/caption]
After last week’s Commons defeat, the PM would now have to come up with Plan B within three parliamentary working days.
With her options dwindling, she could phone a friend. But she has few left who would be willing to help.
Her first call is likely to go to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to plead for a sweetener to boost support for her blueprint.
But he is unlikely to give her any major concessions and has already warned the PM that he will not reopen negotiations — and that’s his final answer.
Even if he does agree to fresh talks, the countdown clock will not have stopped ticking and it is difficult to see what more she could squeeze out of the unyielding Eurocrat.
And if she returned from Brussels with nothing more than a few tweaks to the same old deal, the Pound would crash and there is a chance the public outcry would twist the arms of MPs to vote for the PM’s Brexit deal at the second attempt.
If Theresa May is defeated on Tuesday she will have three days to produce an answer to what happens next — but the choices are stark and she’s fast running out of lifelines[/caption]
Time is not on her side, however, and there will be pressure from some MPs to extend Article 50 — the two-year mechanism for leaving the EU — which ends on March 29.
This is fraught with problems.
First the UK would have to beg the EU for an extension and it could only be granted if all 27 member states agree.
Secondly, the Government would have to change the definition of “exit day” in the Withdrawal Act, and MPs would get a vote on it.
But reopening talks carries a high risk. President Emmanuel Macron would seize the chance to demand more fishing rights for France and Spanish leader Pedro Sanchez would press for more control of Gibraltar.
Brexiteers would see it as a victory for Remainer MPs and the first step towards a second referendum — which would drag the country into the worst political turmoil for decades.
Reopening talks risks President Emmanuel Macron seizing the chance to demand more fishing rights for France[/caption]
A No10 source said: “If we had three more weeks, three months or even three years, it wouldn’t change the fundamentals.”
And of course, if the EU refused to re-enter negotiations, Mrs May would have to plump for one of the other options.
But like every other way forward, MPs on all sides, from Brexit wreckers to hardline Leavers, will try to block her for their own political ends.
Labour’s 257 MPs hold many of the cards and will make or break any effort by Parliament to drive the Government down one route or another.
Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Sir Keir Starmer, has admitted his top priority is to stop Britain ‘crashing out’ of the EU without a deal[/caption]
In the 11 weeks left until Britain leaves, Remainer MPs will try guerrilla tactics on an almost daily basis to try to thwart, delay or soften Brexit.
And they will be the biggest stumbling blocks if Mrs May attempts to take us out without a deal.
She has often insisted “No Deal is better than a bad deal” and if nothing else happens the law is in place to dictate that Britain will leave on March 29. But Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Sir Keir Starmer, has admitted his top priority is to stop Britain “crashing out” of the EU.
He says: “No Deal is not an option. Labour will not countenance No Deal and nor would many of the Prime Minister’s own MPs.”
His stand would be backed by 35 Scottish Nationalist MPs, 12 Lib Dems and some Remainer Tories.
Calling a General Election would risk a government led by Jeremy Corbyn[/caption]
Mrs May would also face Cabinet resignations if she attempted to leave with no agreement.
A senior Government source said: “There’s no way you can cruise control towards a No-Deal Brexit. That’s for the birds.”
MPs unhappy with the prospect defeated the Government this week by voting to limit the Treasury’s ability to raise certain taxes, a symbolic warning shot across the Government bows.
Their nuclear option would be to call a vote of no confidence.
Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, two-thirds of MPs must back the vote to force a general election, which is extremely unlikely. If the PM loses narrowly, the Tories have 14 days to form an alternative government that is able to win a confidence vote — if not there would be an election.
But the timing is such that the earliest an election could be held would be February 21, barely five weeks before Brexit day.
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Mrs May could decide the best way to break the deadlock would be to “ask the audience” — by calling a general election herself.
She would get to pick the date and fight it on the grounds of winning a clear mandate for delivering Brexit.
But as she learned in 2017, the outcome is not guaranteed. And with their seats at risk and a Marxist government led by Jeremy Corbyn waiting in the wings, they are unlikely to give her that two-thirds Commons majority she needs.
Which perhaps explains why the PM is sticking so doggedly to her dodgy deal. She may be staring defeat in the face but it’s got as much chance as any of the other possible options.
And if anyone else tells you they know the answer to the biggest question in politics, you know they’re lying.
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