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Next week, Brexit might actually get interesting. After two years of screaming into the wind, the UK's elected lawmakers finally get to do something useful.
On Tuesday, they get to have their say on Prime Minister Theresa May's deal with the European Union, as the long-awaited "meaningful vote" hits Parliament.
Brexit is a uniquely peculiar bit of politics that has made the UK a uniquely peculiar place.
It's no secret that the country is bitterly divided over more than whether it should be in or out of the EU. For an issue that was once binary (Leave; Remain), there are now innumerable desired outcomes, none of which, we're told, command that all-important parliamentary majority.
The simplest outcome would be for May to win on Tuesday. That would mean the UK officially leaving the EU on March 29, before starting work on what comes next. But that "if" is so gargantuan it warrants its own moon. Even members of May's inner circle is privately admit that they expect her to lose.
If that happens, it becomes a numbers game. A modest loss could give May the confidence to try again. A heavy defeat, however, could kill both her deal and her leadership. And that's where those innumerable desired outcomes come back into play.
Possible scenarios include: an attempted (probably doomed) renegotiation with the EU; extending the article 50 process (the mechanism by which a member state leaves the EU); a collapse of government and general election; a change of prime minister; a second EU referendum; a scrapping of Brexit altogether; and crashing out with a no-deal.
It's these other outcomes -- and their proponents -- that are worth placing under a microscope.
The various tribes have consistently hidden behind principles to avoid endorsing an option that is *actually* on the table -- or building a consensus behind their preference. Worse, they have decided to ignore the real-world problems that accompany their solutions.
Call it lying, call it willful misunderstanding, whatever: in the two-and-a-halfish years since 51.9% voted Leave, few in the UK's political class have distinguished themselves.
Let's start with the most common breed: those who think May (or someone else) should try to get a better deal.
We know that the Withdrawal Agreement -- the divorce and transition to full independence -- is locked. A European diplomatic source told me recently that this isn't a hardball negotiating position from the EU. It has taken 28 countries the best part of two years to reach this agreement. The idea something much better can be rushed through before the Brexit deadline is somewhat optimistic.
And what that "better deal" might be is contentious, too. Some MPs want to emulate a softer Norway-style arrangement, granting the UK access to the single market; others want a looser trade agreement, not dissimilar to the one Canada enjoys with the EU. But both options are deemed unacceptable to the opposing camp and, crucially, neither addresses the Northern Ireland question.
Residents of Wales mining town discuss Brexit 02:05
Next, the extenders. This week, the opposition Labour Party's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer, said that he thinks extending article 50 is now "inevitable." Classic rival move. Decoded: you've done such a bad job that Brexit is now impossible.
The logic here is that by extending, there is wiggle room to improve the deal. Well, we already know that according to the EU, this isn't currently an option. Besides, to extend article 50 would require going cap-in-hand to the other 27 member states, any of whom could veto. Risky doesn't come close. And who does Starmer think is going to lead these negotiations?
Ah yes, the government-collapsing-and-general-election
strategy. While it's possible that May's government could fall, a snap election could be held and a new government -- led either by Labour or a new Conservative PM -- could be formed, it might be too little too late.
The man best-placed to force a vote of confidence in the government is Starmer's boss, Jeremy Corbyn. So far, he has declined to call such a vote, and it's now perilously close to the
And even in this election scenario, it's not clear Theresa May or her replacement would request extending article 50. So again: risky business for a nation running out of road and ideas.
A growing number of voices now support a second referendum. The problems with this are countless, but foremost is that it might be the biggest political risk of all.
Back-of-a-beer-matt wargaming suggests that since Brexit has evolved, there would now need to be more than the two options that were on the original ballot.
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