After 41 months of deadlock will Brexit turn murkier?

Assuming they grant an extension of some kind, which is considered the most likely scenario, what happens next in Westminster?

By Mark Hallam (Core Issue)

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Published: Sat 26 Oct 2019, 9:26 PM

Last updated: Sat 26 Oct 2019, 11:28 PM

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is waiting on word from the other 27 EU heads of state and government on whether the October 31 Brexit date can be delayed. A decision, originally expected on Wednesday, has now been pushed back.
EU ambassadors on Friday agreed in principle on the need for an extension, but not on its structure or length. They will reconvene on Monday in Brussels.
The period suggested by the UK would last three months, to the end of January, with the option to terminate earlier if Members of Parliament (MPs) can finalise the Brexit process.
But the decision - on whether to extend at all, and for how long - rests with the EU leaders.
European Council President Donald Tusk said he would recommend granting a request, while German politicians have also indicated a willingness in theory. However, France, which has often played the "bad cop" role in Brexit talks, voiced skepticism and raised the spectre of a shorter extension designed to allow enough time to try to put the current Brexit agreement through Parliament.
Assuming they grant an extension of some kind, which is considered the most likely scenario, what happens next in Westminster? How might British politicians try to break the 41 months of deadlock since 2016's referendum?
Three scenarios seem most likely:
Option 1: Extension, no election, try to finalise deal. The quickest way out is for Boris Johnson's minority government to try to push its existing Brexit deal through Parliament.
However, that will require at least some opposition support because the Conservatives fall well short of passing a deal by themselves.
The deal risks either not passing Parliament, or being altered in ways the EU might object to, which could also scupper it.
The benefit to choosing this route, from the point of view of many MPs, would be completing the first stage of the Brexit process before returning to the voters in a general election. Almost all sitting Conservative and Labour MPs pledged during 2017's campaign to take the UK out of the EU, in one way or another, in order to fulfill the referendum decision.
Johnson has told the opposition that if they agree to his desired December 12 date for new elections, he would grant further time to debate and sign off on the deal before dissolving Parliament for the campaign. Should they refuse this, Johnson has effectively threatened to put the government on strike and halt all but the most necessary business.
Option 2: Extension, election, Conservatives win. Whether it comes before or after Parliament passes plans to leave the EU, the UK seems doomed to a general election sooner than later.
The prime minister will need opposition support to trigger an early election, but Labour's leadership has indicated likely willingness for such a vote once an extension is secure.
Current polls suggest that the Conservatives would win a majority if a vote were held now. That said, polling rates have been immensely volatile ever since 2016's referendum.
In 2017, Theresa May called an early election expecting a huge majority, only to see her support tank and Labour's soar during the campaign.
Should the Conservatives win a majority, though, their route towards passing Boris Johnson's deal would appear to be clear.
Option 3: Extension, election, change of government. If Labour wins a majority outright, or various opposition parties unite to form an anti-Tory coalition, then the way forward becomes more murky. What seems certain, though, is that the winners would ultimately need a far longer extension than just three months.
Any non-Conservative government - even a coalition - would almost certainly be led by Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party, so it is a reasonable assumption that their proposed Brexit plan would be used as a blueprint.
Corbyn's party, if elected, is pledging to renegotiate a different, softer deal with the EU, and then to put that deal to the people in a referendum, against the option to remain in the EU.
Each stage of this process would surely take several months - assuming Europe's patience endured. But the added delay would be sweetened by the potential prospect of the EU retaining all 28 of its members.

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