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Brexit – where are we now?

If you are baffled by Brexit, rest assured you are not alone. With just under two weeks to Brexit Day (11:00 pm on 29 March 2019) it would appear that we are no clearer to knowing what will happen. So, what are the permutations?

On 12 March, the ‘meaningful vote’ took place for the second time on the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between the UK and the EU. Theresa May was hopeful that written assurances by the EU would persuade reluctant MPs to vote for her deal but following advice from the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, that the assurances would not place a time limit on the operation of the Irish Backstop (the protocol within the Withdrawal Agreement to avoid a hard border), the deal was, again, decisively defeated.

Having failed to navigate her deal through the choppy waters of Parliament, the following day a motion was put to Parliament as to whether the UK should leave the EU without a deal. The motion was defeated and instead replaced by an amended version that Britain should not leave the EU without an agreement, at any time. An amendment to the motion, which called for a second referendum was also defeated. That said, it is arguable that despite this vote, if Theresa May cannot get the deal ratified by Parliament then the default position would appear to be that the UK will leave the EU on 29 March without a deal in a ‘no-deal’ scenario, meaning that the UK will be a ‘third country’ for the purposes of international trade and subject to the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

However, on 14 March, the government was successful in securing sufficient votes to seek a short, limited, extension of Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union (the notification of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU). An extension to Article 50 cannot be done unilaterally and needs the consent of all the remaining EU member states. President Emmanuel Macron has said France will block any extension to Article 50 unless there is a “new choice” by the UK – that there is something new and concrete on the table for Parliament to consider and vote upon. Pedro Sanchez, the Prime Minister of Spain, has said that merely postponing the no deal deadline would not be “reasonable or desirable” and if an extension were granted, there would be conditions attached. It is, therefore, not a given that the UK could extend Article 50 and avoid a no-deal Brexit on 29 March.

Theresa May tried putting the deal to Parliament for a third time but commons speaker John Bercow has ruled this out if the deal remains “partially the same” and will now move to delay article 50 on Thursday 21 March.

Despite being defeated last week, it would appear that the issue of a second referendum remains live. Over the weekend, Jeremy Corbyn appeared to signal that the Labour Party would back an amendment aimed at securing a second Brexit referendum, set to be tabled this week.  However, he also stressed that the Labour Party had not ruled out tabling another vote of no confidence and still hoped to secure its own, softer Brexit deal.

There is, of course, one further option which, perhaps unsurprisingly, none of the political parties have put forward.  On 10 December 2018 the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that the UK is free to revoke unilaterally Article 50 and bring Brexit to an end.  That would, of course, be a controversial political decision, but it remains as an option.

So where does that leave us and what can you do?  A no deal Brexit is still a possibility and it would be wise to start planning and putting into place contingency plans in case this should happen. We are here to help you; we have lawyers working in all industry sectors and can advise on the best course of action to prepare for a no deal scenario and minimise any negative impacts.

Brexit - where are we now? Andrew Jackson Solicitors

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