EU forces choice of their political lives on MPs

Theresa May is seeking MPs’ support for her deal after delay to Brexit was agreed. Credit: AP

After yesterday’s historic negotiations between EU leaders here in Brussels – while Theresa May was out of the room – here is what we now know about Brexit.

We are not leaving the EU on 29 March 2019, the Brexit day that was supposedly set in stone.

We may yet leave on 22 May this year, but only if this week MPs finally – at a third time of asking, and probably on Tuesday – vote for Theresa May’s widely derided Brexit plan.

We could leave without a Brexit deal on the new Brexit day, 12 April – if the PM’s vote is lost.

Or we could leave at an undetermined future date with a different Brexit plan, or hold a referendum, or even revoke our decision to leave if by 12 April MPs coalesce around some other route than a no-deal Brexit in just the next three weeks, and if they are prepared for the UK to participate in European Parliamentary elections the following week.

All clear to you about what’s going to happen?

No of course not.

What was settled by Macron, Merkel, Tusk et al was the ultimate diplomatic humiliation for the UK.

Because more than 1000 days after the UK voted to leave the UK, we are in practice very little nearer knowing what that vote actually means.

If I were to call this a dog’s breakfast I would be insulting dog’s breakfasts. There may not be a pooch on the planet that would swallow this indignity.

But the prime minister has and we are.

So what happens now?

Well, nobody knows – probably not even God. Because there are too many imponderables.

If the decision were settled just on where the Brexit preferences of MPs probably lie, the UK would probably pivot to the softest Brexit – the so-called Common Market 2.0 – and go for an undetermined but finite further Brexit extension.

But that route probably blows up the Tory Party completely and would also see a lesser haemorrhaging of Labour: the Tories could split right down the middle, between the Brexiter purists of the ERG and the rest.

And for any of this to happen, backbenchers – led by Boles, Cooper, Letwin et al – would in the coming days have to completely take control of the process of shaping and delivering Brexit from Theresa May and the government.

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, right, and Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, left. Credit: AP

So there we have it. MPs have a weekend to decide whether to initiate civil war against Theresa May and the government and instigate a once-in-a-century reconfiguration of the structure of political parties.

As for whether Theresa May can actually survive as PM more than another few minutes having set up this titanic of all parliament struggles, that seems almost a side issue now.

Her fate will presumably almost be sealed this week, if she loses the vote on her deal, and then completely on 12 April if MPs have decided to opt for a lengthy Brexit extension – since she said unequivocally in the Commons on Wednesday that she was “not prepared to delay Brexit any longer than 30 June”.

But funnily enough, whether she stays or goes seems fairly trivial compared to all the other nation-determining stuff.