Delay or no-deal? Brexit scenarios in the balance

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The Brexit debate has divided opinion both inside and outside the British parliament

The Brexit debate has divided opinion both inside and outside the British parliament (AFP Photo/Tolga AKMEN)

London (AFP) - British MPs voted Thursday to ask the EU for a Brexit delay and to hold a third vote on the divorce agreement but a no-deal hard Brexit still remains the default outcome.

With just over two weeks to go until the scheduled departure day on March 29 and the political sands shifting, here are the potential Brexit scenarios:

- Brexit delay -

MPs on Thursday authorised Prime Minister Theresa May to request a postponement of the formal Brexit date from March 29 to June 30.

The move aims to give her time to pass legislative changes necessary for a smooth departure.

But if her divorce deal is rejected for a third time, she believes any extension would have to be far longer and would involve Britain taking part in European Parliament elections on May 23-26.

For any extension, she will need to convince leaders of all the 27 other EU states at a Council summit in Brussels on March 21-22.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted on Monday that Britain's exit should be completed by the European elections.

Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok warned Wednesday that Britain would need to convince "each and every" EU country to grant any delay.

- No deal -

After rejecting May's deal for a second time on Tuesday, British MPs voted on Wednesday against leaving the EU without a formal agreement -- the so-called "no-deal Brexit" -- although it still remains the default option.

May had promised a vote to rule out this perilous outcome -- for the time being -- if her deal failed to pass through parliament.

MPs went even further, backing an amendment that ruled out a no-deal in any scenario down the line.

They fear the prospect of trade routes clogging up, the UK pound crashing and tension over the Irish border in the event of no deal.

The parliamentary vote is only advisory as the EU must agree unanimously to any alternative.

But it signals to EU officials that the one thing MPs can agree on is an orderly divorce.

- May's deal -

The idea of May's deal with Brussels making a comeback after Tuesday's defeat seemed far-fetched.

But Thursday's vote opened the door to one more go at it -- and several factors continue to play in May's favour.

One is that Brexit backers could decide that May might be offering their best -- and quite possibly last -- chance to split from the bloc.

And EU officials would like to see Britain's status settled before the European Parliament elections.

The two factors prompted May to propose yet another vote on her 585-page pact with Brussels.

- Second referendum -

MPs on Thursday voted massively against delaying Brexit in order to hold a second referendum, dealing a blow to "People's Vote" campaigners who see it as their best route towards keeping Britain in the EU.

Some 84 MPs voted in favour and 334 against -- more than half the total number of MPs. The main opposition Labour party, which supports another referendum in theory, ordered its MPs to abstain.

But the MP who brought forward the vote said she would try again next week.

Two forces are expected to spring into action: groups backing a much closer EU-UK union -- and ones that simply want to call the whole thing off.

A second referendum would take time to organise -- and would require the decisive result of Thursday's vote to be overturned.