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After the meaningful vote: What are Theresa May’s options?

Sam Lowe, John Springford, (2019), “After the meaningful vote: What are Theresa May’s options?”, CER, 16 January

It is difficult to see an obvious pathway toward the UK remaining in the EU – be it by a second referendum or a decision made by parliament. It would probably require a change of heart by Jeremy Corbyn, who opposes a re-run of the referendum, and by May. One possible scenario is that May, unable to pass a withdrawal agreement through Parliament, receives Labour’s support for a second referendum, to put Brexit back to the people and ask them to choose between her negotiated exit, or remain.

Opponents of overturning the Brexit vote, or at least putting it to a second vote, correctly argue that doing so would be divisive. But division is now impossible to avoid; Brexit-induced resentment will fester, no matter the eventual outcome. And remain at least leaves the UK in a better economic state, with greater government resources to address the resentments that played a part in Leave’s victory in 2016.

Most probably, May will attempt to amend the withdrawal agreement and political declaration and then push the subsequent parliamentary vote to the wire. To pass her deal, the threat of no deal will need to be tangible, and for that to happen the March 29 deadline will need to loom large. The EU will not extend Article 50 for the purpose of further British procrastination, but would consider it if it were necessary to allow time for implementing legislation to pass, or for Britain to hold a referendum. May would then be reliant on Labour votes to outweigh those of the DUP and Conservative hardliners. This is a risky strategy that could easily backfire, but may end up being the only card she has left.

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