The Corner


Is a No-Deal Brexit Still on the Table?

Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement with the EU has now been defeated twice in parliament, and by embarrassingly large majorities. The prime minister hopes to have a third vote on the same deal. However, the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has cited a law dating back to 1604 to warn the government that it cannot bring back the deal for another vote unless material changes have been made to it. The trouble is that the EU has said that it’s set in stone.

Why doesn’t the U.K. just leave without a deal? You may be wondering. In short, because Parliament doesn’t want that. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it has the power to stop it.

The day after Parliament rejected May’s deal for the second time, it voted on whether “no deal” should remain the legal default (as Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29). Parliament decided that it should not. Next, it voted on whether to ask the EU for an extension to the exit date.

Today, the prime minister is in Brussels, asking the EU to allow a delay to Brexit, which is currently scheduled for March 29. What next? The British journalist Robert Peston shared a fascinating theory earlier this month:

Although MPs will vote against an imminent no-deal Brexit [this is indeed what happened], they cannot cancel the risk of leaving without a deal completely – because that decision is actually the EU’s, not ours, unless as a nation we choose to revoke for all time our choice to leave the European Union.

So, to bore on again, my central projection remains a no-deal Brexit at the end of May or in June – largely because EU governments are sick to the back teeth of not knowing what kind of Brexit or no-Brexit the UK actually wants.

Yesterday, Theresa May gave a speech in which she blamed the possibility of a delay on members of Parliament and assured the British public: “I’m on your side.” However, she also hinted to MPs that she might resign if there is still no Brexit by the end of June.

If it comes to it, could a new prime minister have the gumption to plow on ahead without a deal?

It’s an interesting thought.

Madeleine Kearns is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute. She is from Glasgow, Scotland, and is a trained singer.

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