Brexit: Is the Show that Never Ends About to Enter Another Act?

Nearly three years after the UK voted to leave the European Union (EU), the deadline for Brexit is less than two weeks away and the British government is asking for more time. While it’s easy to be distracted by the ongoing chaos in Parliament, it’s important to maintain a steady focus on the underlying parameters of the debate and the range of possible outcomes. These have shifted less than might be imagined.

First, a quick recap of what happened last week. On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May suffered another crushing defeat on her Brexit plan. On Thursday, Parliament voted to seek a three-month extension of the rapidly approaching March 29 deadline for leaving the EU.

There’s little clarity—and less predictability—over what might pan out in the coming days. Will Prime Minister May’s leadership survive? Will she call an election? Could she get her Brexit deal through at a third or even fourth attempt?

Looking Beyond the Noise

Stripping aside the chaos of the daily developments and countless news stories, the main parameters that are shaping the Brexit endgame haven’t really changed:

•Not many lawmakers want a no-deal Brexit, but it’s a challenge to get them to avoid this outcome by coalescing around a specific plan—and by crossing party lines to do it.

•The EU wants to avoid a disruptive no-deal Brexit, but not at any cost. It’s unlikely the EU will turn down the June 30 deadline extension, but it will want a good reason and maybe some conditions.

•The UK ultimately has only two choices if it wants to avoid a no-deal Brexit: revoke Article 50 (almost certainly requiring a second referendum) or ratify a withdrawal agreement that might look very similar to the current one.