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The UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and the accompanying Political Declaration (PD) on the framework for the future UK-EU relationship have been rejected twice by the House of Commons, on 15 January and 12 March 2019. On 21 March, the EU agreed to the Prime Minister’s request for an extension to the Article 50 withdrawal period. Brexit would be delayed until 22 May if the WA was approved by the House of Commons by 29 March, to give time for adoption of the necessary implementing legislation. In the event of the WA not being approved, Article 50 would be extended until 12 April.

The EU has held out the possibility of a longer extension being agreed beyond 12 April if the UK comes up with an alternative plan and decides to participate in the European Parliament elections at the end of May. The EU has repeatedly said it will not re-open discussions on the WA, but is willing to consider changes to the PD. EU leaders have indicated that a longer Article 50 extension would require a new event or new political process in the UK.

On 25 March, the House of Commons approved a motion suspending precedence for Government business on 27 March and allowing for motions on indicative votes on alternative approaches to Brexit to take place. This was intended as a way of enabling a majority of MPs to coalesce around a future model for UK-EU relations that could break the current impasse. In the votes on 27 May, none of the options debated won majority support. The option that came closest to winning was a proposal for a permanent UK-EU customs union, defeated by eight votes. The indicative votes process is scheduled to be repeated on 1 April, and MPs may be given the opportunity to rank the different options debated upon as a way of reaching a compromise.

If an alternative plan is not agreed that persuades the EU to extend Article 50 further, and the WA is still not approved, then the UK will leave the EU without a deal on 12 April unless the Article 50 notice to withdraw from the EU is revoked. The EU Court of Justice has ruled that the UK could choose to revoke its Article 50 notice unilaterally in order to remain the EU. The Government firmly rejects doing this. A motion to revoke Article 50 in order to avoid no deal if no WA has been approved two days before exit day was defeated by 293 votes to 184 in the indicative votes on 27 March.

The most likely route leading to an Article 50 revocation would be if another referendum on Brexit was held, with an option to remain in the EU.   Another referendum is backed by the Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, the Independent Group, the Greens and the cross-party People’s Vote campaign (also including a small number of Conservative MPs). The Labour party has also indicated it would support a referendum if its alternative Brexit proposals are not adopted. In the indicative votes on 27 March, Labour whipped in favour of the defeated motion calling for a public vote on any Withdrawal Agreement/future relations framework approved by Parliament, but 27 Labour MPs voted against.

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