Read: Watching Britain’s influence shrink in real time
Even if the EU were willing to renegotiate, “it almost certainly won’t involve the Withdrawal Agreement,” Anand Menon, the director of the London-based U.K. in a Changing Europe research institute, told me. Rather, it will likely focus on the draft political declaration, a non-binding part of the deal which sets out the framework of the future relationship.
What are May’s other options?
1. May is out
Should the prime minister decide she is unable to deliver an agreement that will pass muster in Parliament, she could opt to step down and hand off the task to the next Conservative leader.
Anyone who knows May, however, knows she isn’t a quitter. Even in the most perilous of circumstances throughout this long and tired Brexit process, she has proven herself a dogged leader, unwilling to be thwarted by fear of political defeat. Her resilience has earned her praise from political friends and foes in the past, and it may well sustain her into the future.
Resilience alone won’t protect May from a coup within her party, though. If 48 Conservative lawmakers submit letters of no confidence in the prime minister, the party must vote on whether she can remain its leader and, by extension, prime minister. If she survives that ballot, party rules state that there can be no further challenge to her leadership for another year. Such attempts to topple her have failed spectacularly in the past, but questions over the viability of her Brexit deal could reinvigorate those efforts.
2. A second referendum
The prime minister has insisted that her government “will never accept a second referendum,” but if Parliament remains in a deadlock, throwing the question back to the people could emerge as a lucrative option. And it wouldn’t be the first time the prime minister changed her mind about having a vote. In order for a second referendum to take place, the government will need to bring forward legislation to hold one, and a majority of lawmakers would have to support it.
Though the original Brexit vote took 13 months to organize, advocates behind the People’s Vote, which is campaigning for a second referendum, say another could take place in half that time. “We think roughly it would take about six months from start to finish,” Chuka Umunna, a Labour lawmaker and People’s Vote supporter, told me last month. “Three months to see the legislation through Parliament and three months is probably what the electoral commission will require as a minimum time frame for a campaign.”
Regardless of how long a second referendum takes, however, it would almost certainly require an extension of Article 50, the time-limited EU exit procedure that concludes on March 29, 2019, when Britain is due to leave the bloc. The European Court of Justice ruled Monday that the U.K. may unilaterally revoke its Article 50 notification, should it wish to retain its membership in the EU. An extension, however, would require the unanimous consent of the bloc’s 27 other member states.