Let's be honest, this whole Brexit thing is getting rather confusing. When even the experts can't come up with a clear answer as to what the UK can expect, the situation seems entirely hopeless. But what happens if Theresa May's Brexit deal is voted down in Parliament? Well, there are quite a few options.
On Sunday, the other 27 leaders of the European Union (EU) agreed to May's terms concerning the UK's exit. All she has to do now is convince her own Parliament to do the same. But that won't be easy. According to the Guardian, 89 Conservative MPs could be likely to reject her deal on Dec. 11 when the House of Commons has its final vote.
Theresa May appeared in the House on Monday to say that she has no second option and urged MPs to think carefully about their vote: “I believe that it is important that when people come to that vote, they consider the interests of this country, they consider the interests of their constituents, and they consider the importance of delivering on Brexit."
Many opponents to the deal believe that the terms the prime minister has agreed are not what the people voted for and also not what was promised by May. It is reported by the Guardian that MPs for Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, and the Democratic Unionist Party, as well as the aforementioned select Conservatives, may vote against the deal.
If she doesn't secure the 320 votes needed to secure a majority, there are a few routes May can go down. She could head back to Brussels and convince the EU to accept a few minor changes that will please the disagreeing politicians. This may be easier said than done.
An ever more likely scenario is that the UK will leave the EU without a deal. The EU Withdrawal Act states that at 11 p.m. on March 29, 2019, the EU Treaties will officially stop applying to the UK. This act also states that if Parliament rejects the deal agreed by the EU, the government will have up to 21 days to issue a statement to the House of Commons stating how it plans to proceed. It will then have a further week to allow MPs to debate this plan before passing new legislation that secures both the approval of the EU and Parliament.
It will be exceedingly difficult for this to happen before the end of March. However, another option is what's being touted as a negotiated no deal. This is where the UK would ask the EU for a one-year extension before leaving on World Trade Organisation terms. (The BBC notes that Parliament is unlikely to agree to this.)
All of the other options involve either a referendum or a general election. May herself could call a general election or she could be ousted after a no confidence vote from her own party. A new Conservative leader would then be elected and would have to face making super speedy changes to the deal. The Labour party could also force a general election if it declares no confidence in the government, an option Keir Starmer has suggested is on the table, the Guardian reports. If a new leader is elected (whether Conservative or from another party), the Fixed Term Parliament Act states that they will have two weeks to form a new government that can secure a confidence vote.
A second referendum could also be on the cards. Labour may push for this and, if the party can show that the majority of people support it, May will find it hard to ignore the plea. However, a second referendum won't happen just with the prime minster's say so. This is likely to require a delay to Brexit as the Electoral Commission's guidelines state that there should be six months between legislation being clarified and a referendum taking place. As you've probably worked out, getting a delay to Brexit requires the agreement of the UK and all of the 27 EU leaders, so won't be an easy task.
Essentially, the prime minister has a mountain to climb over the next two weeks. We'll have to wait and see if she makes it down the other side completely intact.