The Brexit Files: Can Brexit Be Stopped?

This is the transcript of a great video put together by the team at the Financial Times.

You can watch the video here: https://www.ft.com/video/51441c9b-4ac1-4067-b22c-b5f93b7a9861

Deal or no deal, will MPs approve an agreement? And what about a second referendum? These are the burning questions looming over the UK.

And to make things more complicated, they all point to an even bigger question — can Brexit be stopped? Brexit Day, March 29, 2019, is fast approaching. And the UK and EU have yet to agree a deal.

In October, Theresa May and EU leaders are meeting again in Brussels to try to forge an agreement. But several obstacles remain, notably the Irish border issue. If they fail, there will be one last chance to reach a pact at a special summit in November.

And if that fails, well, there’s a chance the UK could crash out of the EU without any pact. But that would be catastrophic. The pound would plummet, and officials have warned that house prices could fall by a third. So the consensus has long been that a pact will be agreed between Britain and the EU in Brussels.

The bigger question is what happens if Mrs May brings any agreement back to Westminster? Will it be approved by the 650 MPs who sit in the House of Commons? If the prime minister wins a Commons vote in late November or early December, that would be the end of the matter. Britain will leave.

But her working majority is wafer thin. And the opposition Labour party has said it will vote against any deal she does with the EU. Then, that’s the hard line conservatives on her own benches who want a cleaner break from Europe than she is proposing. They could vote against her, too.

So there’s a chance she could lose the vote. And if that happens, Parliament and the UK will enter a no-man’s land. What then?

Well, the prime minister could resign and And Parliament might decide to hold a general election. But it’s not clear that this would solve anything. It might well produce the same hung Parliament we saw in 2017, making the Brexit waters as clear as mud. The strong likelihood, too, is that MPs in Parliament will want to avoid Britain crashing out under any circumstances.

So that raises the third possibility — that Parliament could decide to let the country vote on a final deal. But a people’s vote, as it’s called, has three flaws — first, it’s not clear what the ballot paper would actually ask. Voters could choose between no deal, Mrs May’s deal, or staying in the EU.

Secondly, another referendum would be hugely divisive. Many Leave voters would feel betrayed. And politicians worry about public disorder.

A third problem is that while Leave voters are becoming lukewarm about Brexit, the shift to Remain has not been decisive since 2016. The referendum result was 52–48 per cent in favour of leaving the EU. But most polls since then still only show around 54–46 at best for remaining. The outcome is impossible to predict. What the prime minister is hoping is that MPs back her deal for fear of something worse.