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Brexit options: stick close to EU, crash out, think again

Published:Tuesday | April 2, 2019 | 12:00 AM


Britain is running out of time and options for Brexit.

United Kingdom (UK) lawmakers have thrice rejected the divorce deal struck between Prime Minister Theresa May’s government and the European Union (EU). They’ve also failed to find a majority for any alternative.

Facing an April 12 deadline to present the EU with a new Brexit proposal or crash out of the bloc, lawmakers met for new votes yesterday to try to agree on a plan. And May hasn’t given up hope of persuading Parliament to back her Brexit deal if she asks a fourth time.

The most likely options:


Parliament is voting on four alternative proposals to May’s rejected deal after lawmakers seized control of the schedule from the government.

Two of the options aim to keep close economic ties between Britain and the bloc after Brexit. One seeks continued membership in the EU’s customs union, guaranteeing smooth and tariff-free trade in goods. The second goes further, calling for Britain to stay in the EU’s borderless single market for both goods and services.

May has ruled those options out because sticking to EU trade rules would limit Britain’s ability to forge new trade deals around the world.

But adopting a ‘soft Brexit’ would likely be welcomed by the EU and would allow Britain to leave the bloc in an orderly fashion in the next few months.


The other two options up for votes are a new referendum on whether to leave the EU or remain, and a mechanism to cancel Brexit if it looks like Britain will leave the bloc without a deal.

The proposal for any Brexit deal to be put to public vote in a “confirmatory referendum” is backed by opposition parties, plus some of May’s Conservatives – mainly those who want to stay in the bloc.

Her government has ruled out holding another referendum on Britain’s EU membership, saying voters in 2016 made their decision to leave.

But with divisions in both Parliament and in May’s Cabinet, handing the decision back to the people in a new plebiscite could be seen as the only way forward.


Parliament has voted repeatedly to rule out a no-deal Brexit, but that remains the default position unless a deal is approved, Brexit is cancelled or the EU grants Britain another extension.

Most politicians, economists and business groups think leaving the world’s largest trading bloc without an agreement would be disastrous. It would impose tariffs on trade between Britain and the EU, bring customs checks that could cause gridlock at ports, and could spark shortages of essential goods.

Brexiteer lawmakers in May’s Conservative Party dismiss this as “Project Fear” and argue for what they call a “clean Brexit”. They have urged her not to compromise and to ramp up preparations to leave the bloc without an agreement on April 12.

May has said repeatedly she does not believe Parliament would allow a no-deal Brexit. A fourth option up for a vote calls for Parliament to have the power to cancel Britain’s departure if the country comes close to crashing out without a deal.


The alternative to a no-deal departure is to delay Brexit for at least several months, and possibly more than a year, to sort out the mess. The EU is frustrated with the impasse and has said it will only grant another postponement if Britain comes up with a whole new Brexit plan.

The bloc is reluctant to have a departing Britain participate in the May 23-26 European parliament elections, but that would have to be done if Brexit is delayed. Still, EU Council President Donald Tusk has urged the bloc to give Britain a Brexit extension if it plans to change course.

A long delay raises the chances of an early British election, which could rearrange Parliament and break the political deadlock.


After almost two years of negotiations, Britain and the EU struck a divorce deal in November, laying out the terms of the departure from the bloc and giving a rough outline of future relations.

But it has been roundly rejected by lawmakers on both sides of the Brexit divide. Pro-Brexit lawmakers think it keeps Britain too closely tied to EU rules. Pro-EU legislators argue it is worse than the UK’s current status as an EU member.

Parliament has thrown it out three times, although the latest defeat, by 58 votes, was the narrowest yet. It was rejected even after May won over some pro-Brexit lawmakers by promising to quit if it was approved.

May is considering one last push, pitting her deal against whatever is agreed upon by Parliament in hopes that holdout Brexiteers would back her deal rather than a softer option.