Dublin: As things stand now, the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union after 45 years on March 29 — just four weeks from now.
No one knows what will happen, but there is a basic time frame that allows some of the blanks to be filled in.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said that she will bring a revised Withdrawal Deal back to the House of Commons in Westminster on March 12, allowing Members of Parliament (MPs) a vote on the revised deal.
And earlier this week, May laid out a series of options to try and bring some clarity to what is confusing for 60 million Britons — and 500 million more Europeans living in the EU.
Should MPs reject that deal on March 12, the next day they will be asked to vote on whether they want to see the UK leave the EU without a deal. If a majority support that, a hard Brexit happens on March 29.
If a majority say they want a deal, there will then be another vote held the next day, March 14, on whether or not to extend the deadline under Article 50 — the notice period for withdrawal that’s supposed to end on Brexit day.
The original deal negotiated over 18 months with EU officials had already been rejected by an overwhelming majority of MPs in early January.
The key sticking point then was the so-called Northern Irish “backstop” — a guarantee that the EU insisted upon and May committed to in December 2017 that says that no matter what happens down the road when it comes to the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU, there will be an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to the south of the island.
May has been attempting to have that backstop amended, with the EU unwilling to renegotiate or make concessions on what they believe is the pivotal issue — one that risks a return to a violent conflict if there are security of customs checks on that border.
Before that vote, there were five days of debate. It’s not yet clear whether May will allow another lengthy debate, but she is required to get parliamentary approval for any exit deal.
European leaders are due to meet in Brussels for a summit on March 21 and 22. May will be there regardless of what happens.
If she is there with approval for the Withdrawal Agreement, there will be smooth transition to Brexit come March 29. As things stand now, that scenario is becoming less likely — simply because the UK parliament is so badly splintered on Brexit.
If May has no withdrawal agreement, the EU will need to know whether the UK intended to leave a week later with no deal — the “hard Brexit”.
This will mean emergency legislation and measures to prevent chaos at border points, airports and across every aspect of integration that involved the UK and the EU.
Or May will ask the EU colleagues for an extension the two-year time from that expires at 11pm on March 29 London time.
Or the EU leaders will try to hammer out a deal that might win over reluctant parliamentarians, taking up until Sunday, March 24, to do so.
Even then, however, May will need to get that through her fractured parliament.
But extending Article 50 is no easy matter. There are elections across the EU27 between May23 and 26 to elect a new European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The UK won’t be voting, so the EU is anxious to get Brexit wrapped up one way or another by June 30, before the new European parliament would meet.
Some EU leaders, however, have suggested that Brexit might be delayed entirely until the end of December 2020. That’s a scenario that would be unacceptable to hard-line leavers in the UK, who want out of the EU as soon as possible — one way or the other.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign correspondent based in Europe