This afternoon the House of Commons voted for a third time to reject the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement, which means that the EU’s offer of a “technical extension” of Brexit date to 22 May is now off the table. In the absence of any sudden change of approach, the UK’s choice is now to leave on 12 April without a deal or to agree a significantly longer extension – probably at least until the end of the year – and participate in elections to the European Parliament.
The EU is expected to hold a special summit on 10 April to discuss any request for an extension. Having previously been very reluctant to agree to any delay to the UK’s departure date in the absence of a clear plan for reaching agreement, the EU may be unwilling to grant an extension without a commitment to some kind of change of approach from the UK. Two obvious possibilities (also the two most-supported options during Wednesday’s indicative votes in Parliament) would be for the UK to shift to seeking membership of the customs union, or to commit to agreeing a deal subject to a further ratification referendum. However, a change of Prime Minister or a General Election are also possibilities; as well as having come close to committing to resign as Prime Minister during the last week, Theresa May also made comments immediately after the vote that suggested an election could be on the way.
It’s fair to say that there is no more certainty today than there has been in recent weeks. We hope that a clear way forward will emerge quickly between now and 12 April so that businesses who are already seeing negative effects of the risk of a no-deal exit will be able to plan for the future.