Brexit scenarios: the paths ahead

London (AFP) –


With lawmakers voting for a law to block Britain from leaving the European Union without a deal, and with the government and opposition holding talks to break the deadlock, where is Brexit heading?

Britain is left with three general directions: back a deal, end up leaving with no deal or negotiate a long delay to work out an entirely new strategy.

Here is what could happen:

- No-deal Brexit on April 12 -

British MPs forced through legislation instructing Prime Minister Theresa May to seek a delay rather than leave without a deal on April 12, the current legal cut-off point if nothing else has been agreed.

The bill has yet to be approved by the House of Lords.

But the EU may not necessarily approve an extension.

And critics have note that the hastily drafted legislation could even increase the risk of leaving without a deal as it contains no mechanism for British MPs to respond in time if the EU demands different delay terms than those approved by Britain's parliament.

Economists warn a no-deal Brexit could generate economic shockwaves on both sides of the Channel and cause severe delays at border points, despite preparations to mitigate these risks.

- Leave with changes to May's deal -

After failing three times to get her deal through parliament, May is currently locked in talks with the opposition Labour Party -- who favour keeping closer ties with the EU -- to try and break the impasse.

If they agree a deal that passes through parliament before next week's extraordinary EU summit, Brexit could still happen by May 22, allowing time for Britain to pass the necessary laws confirming its departure.

The withdrawal agreement allows for a long transition period and time for trade ties to be negotiated.

The EU has ruled out any changes to it but has said it could speedily rewrite the political declaration -- an accompanying document on future trade ties.

In a desperate gamble to get the deal over the line, May even told her MPs that she would resign before the start of full-blown trade negotiations with the EU if they backed it, but it still failed.

- New plan, long Brexit delay -

If no deal is agreed, Britain could make a request for a longer delay next week, which would entail Britain holding European Parliament elections in May.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, has advised EU leaders that this longer extension should be at least until the end of 2019 and possibly much longer to allow for a proper change in Brexit strategy.

The longer delay would open up options such as holding a general election, a leadership election to replace May or, perhaps, a second referendum.

A general election would reset parliament, and a clear outcome with a government majority could result in a much stronger administration.

But there is a danger it could result in the same situation as now with no one party holding a majority.

And for both major parties, finding a definitive manifesto position on Brexit that all their MPs can commit to could prove a challenge.

A long delay also opens up the possibility of another referendum, with finance minister Philip Hammond on Wednesday calling it a "perfectly credible" option, and Labour reported to be pushing for the move in return for approving May's deal.

But Brexit minister Kwasi Kwarteng said on Thursday "the issue is frankly a red herring, it's not something we countenance," adding that it "would have a very corrosive impact" on the country.