A new Brexit deadline of April 12 looms large over the UK

Last Friday was supposed to be the day the United Kingdom left the European Union. Instead, it was day a that MPs in Westminster rejected the withdrawal agreement negotiated between London and Brussels for a third time in as many months. Here are the main scenarios that might unfold in the coming days:

The no-deal Brexit on April 12

After rejecting the withdrawal agreement on three separate occasions and with no other agreed option in place, this worst-case scenario seems to be looming larger. If MPs can’t agree on a course of action or a plan — any plan — it’s the default position. Immediately, World Trade Organisation tariffs would apply on all goods moving between the EU and UK, there would likely be severe disruption to air, freight and sea traffic, as well as a run on the pound and heavy damage to the UK economy, possibly triggering a European recession with global consequences.

Agree to the plan, and leave on May 22

Should May’s deal be put to parliament a fourth time and with that no-deal abyss the only other alternative, MPs might find it the only possible way forward. Under the revised timetable agreed in Brussels in March, the UK would formally leave on May 22, and would have a transition period up to the end of 2020 to work out its future relationship with the EU. But there are no guarantees another vote would be permitted by the Speaker of the House of Commons, or indeed if there’s sufficient potential movement of MPs to finally agree to the withdrawal agreement on the fourth time of asking.

Put Brexit off for now

The UK has already received one delay from the EU on postponing Brexit — it was supposed to happen on March 29. The EU has called an emergency summit for April 10 and the UK could ask then for a much-longer delay to Brexit. That would, however, mean that the UK would have to participate in the European Parliament elections set for the end of May. That would cause fury by Brexiteers who want out of the EU as soon as possible, with the fury resulting in a highly divisive and bitter election at a time when British society is deeply divided on the subject. And there’s palpable anger in the EU that the Brexit issue has dragged on for too long already.

Find a new path forward

MPs have already held votes on a series of alternative options that include a much softer Brexit, staying in the customs union, or indeed holding a second referendum. All eight proposals were voted down, and MPs will try again on Monday to find a consensus through more indicative votes. Prime Minister May, however, has said she is committed to honouring the results of the first referendum and delivering Brexit — with her withdrawal agreement as the only way forward. And time is dwindling quickly.

Call a general election

Clearly, the political parties and their factions at Westminster are log-jammed. May has hinted that she might indeed call a general election, but to do so would need to convince Labour to vote for it. Large elements of her own Conservative party, however, are opposed to an election. They point to May’s disastrous showing in the vote she called two years ago. Besides, even if May did resign, it will be hard for a bitterly divided Conservative party to choose a new leader, who would then have to unite it and then fight an election. And that takes time — in short supply right now with that April 12 deadline looming, or indeed by May 22.

Cancel Brexit altogether

Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist party on which Prime Minister relies for support at Westminster, said on Friday that perhaps remaining in the EU would indeed be a better alternative to the current withdrawal agreement or no-deal Brexit. That’s wishful thinking that a majority of Briton’s voted to leave. For the EU, who are fed up with Brexit derailing the work and reforms of the European project, that’s a scenario that would be hard to swallow.