02:32 - Source: CNN
May: Change in leadership could delay Brexit

Editor’s Note: Matt Bevington is a public policy researcher at the think tank UK in a Changing Europe. The opinions in this article belong to the author.

For political analysts, Brexit is the gift that keeps on giving.

And, I’m afraid, it will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Yes, that means we won’t be able to forget all about this after Brexit Day on March 29, regardless of what happens in the vote of confidence in Theresa May’s leadership.

The speed with which the vote was called helps the Prime Minister. It means her opponents have little time to forge momentum against her and offers Conservative MPs a stark choice between May and an unknown alternative. Better the devil you know might well prevail.

But here’s my take on what could happen if she loses.

All signs – from the betting markets to polls of the Conservative membership – suggest a successor to May would be more pro-Brexit. That could mean born-again Leaver Sajid Javid, former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab or indeed Boris Johnson.

In all likelihood, May’s deal would be dead. Raab, Johnson and their respective followers, in particular, have drawn too many lines in the sand to roll back on their absolute rejection of any deal that contains the Irish border backstop. Brussels stands firm that without the backstop, there is no deal to be had.

Based on the Brexiteer’s rhetoric, the most obvious outcome might be a “managed no deal.” In reality, however, there will be little to manage about it.

Rolling back on all of the commitments made since last December would irreparably damage relations with the EU in the short term. That would mean no financial commitments, protections for EU citizens or a guarantee of no hard border in Ireland – all the things the EU tried to achieve over the past 21 months.

The prospect of any mitigating deals would therefore be slim. Many EU leaders have been insistent on the UK facing the consequences of its decisions – and this would apply even more so in the event of no deal.

More importantly, could a new PM even get such an approach past Parliament?

Presumably, there would no longer be agreement on a deal in principle. That would mean the January 21 parliamentary deadline for no deal would kick back in.

The new leader would have to get a motion passed in parliament for their preferred approach.

MPs could, and most likely would, reject any pursuit of no deal and rally behind one of the alternatives: Norway plus, a second referendum or even a general election.

That wouldn’t stop the new Prime Minister from ignoring such an instruction of course. But not heeding it might well precipitate a no confidence vote in the government by a coalition of the opposition and Tory Remain MPs. The new Prime Minister could find themselves facing a general election just a couple of months after taking over.

At least at that point, there would be a reasonably clear choice: a no-deal option with the Conservatives or a permanent customs union and, yes, most likely the Irish backstop, with Labour.

In reality, whatever a new prime minister wanted to do short of no deal would require going back to the EU to ask for more time.

That requires all 27 EU leaders to agree. There would be strict conditions for any extension, and it would have to have a clear purpose that would resolve the current impasse.

Whatever happens tonight, things aren’t going to get any less dramatic.