With EU leaders and the UK having now agreed an extension to Article 50 to run to 31 October (and possibly beyond, if a third extension is granted in the autumn), there is now arguably greater uncertainty over whether Brexit will happen and, if so, what form it will take, than at any time since 2016.
With the likelihood of the Government getting a majority for its own Brexit deal seeming no higher than when the Withdrawal Agreement was voted down for a third time by MPs on 29 March, the focus of recent weeks has been on the possibility of a compromise deal between the Conservatives and Labour being agreed and then passing the Commons.
The hurdles to such a deal are significant. Firstly, to reach an agreement, both the Conservatives and Labour would have to be prepared to split their parties.
Specifically, the Conservatives would likely have to commit to a permanent UK-EU customs union to unlock a cross-party deal, a policy which the vast majority of their MPs have recently voted against.
Meanwhile, Labour would likely have to sign up to a deal which did not require a further referendum to ratify it, alienating the large number of Labour MPs who are campaigning for a ‘People’s Vote’ on any Brexit deal which passes the Commons.
Second, even if the two front benches can reach an agreement, it is far from clear that there would be a majority in Parliament for it, given the size of the anticipated Conservative and Labour rebellions in these circumstances.
Finally, it seems unlikely that Labour will sign up to the Government’s fall back plan for gaining a cross-party majority for a Brexit deal in the Commons – a further series of indicative votes which both main parties would, in advance, agree to be bound by the results of.
Range of scenarios
The gloomy prospects for a cross-party deal and the EU’s insistence that the Withdrawal Agreement – and the backstop provisions in it which have alienated dozens of Conservatives and the DUP – cannot be re-opened, make it now almost certain that a deal will not be ratified in time for the UK to avoid participating in the European Parliament elections on 23 May.
So, in the absence of a Brexit deal passing, what is the most likely course that Brexit could take in the coming months?
One scenario is for the Conservatives to force Theresa May to resign (though there is no formal mechanism in place to remove her before December) and replace her with a new leader who would pursue a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
However, it looks likely that, if the Government were to pursue this course, opposition MPs and some Conservative backbenchers would work together to pass legislation forcing the Government to revoke Article 50 rather than take the UK out of the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement.
The Government could anticipate this by calling a general election over the summer to change the maths in the Commons, though current polling suggests little chance of the Conservatives winning a clear majority in any snap ballot.
Breaking the deadlock
Should Theresa May remain in place and the impasse in Parliament continue, expect ‘People’s Vote’ campaigners to step up their argument that a second referendum is the only way to break the deadlock. In the second round of indicative votes held on 1 April, the majority against a second referendum stood at only 12 (though the Cabinet was whipped to abstain in these votes).
However, with the Government already suffering a significant hit in the polls from having delayed Brexit, it remains unlikely that the Government would introduce the legislation needed to allow for another referendum even if the proposal won a majority in the Commons.
Supporters of the proposal would then be forced to pilot their own Bill through Parliament, having to win what would be certain to be a series of nail-biting votes before another referendum would be provided for in law.
Most likely scenario
Overall then, the most likely Brexit scenario at present is that the current impasse continues until a further Article 50 extension is agreed in late-October. However, with that date more than six months away and considering the political volatility witnessed over recent months, a sudden change in the course of events in one direction or another cannot be ruled out.
Given the ongoing uncertainty, RYA is continuing to engage with government and Parliamentarians to ensure that the voice of the recreational boating sector is heard in the Brexit process.
In addition, whilst a no deal Brexit currently looks unlikely, RYA has prepared a Brexit Q&A considering a number of boating-related scenarios in the event of no deal, based on RYA’s knowledge of the legislation as it currently stands.
For more information about the RYA’s Brexit work, or for guidance on how to contact your local MP to have your say, visit www.rya.org.uk/go/brexit or contact the RYA Cruising, Legal and Government Affairs Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.