It seems like all we've heard in the news for the last 18 months is Brexit. Today is the day that MPs will vote on whether to accept Theresa May's deal to withdraw from the EU. The vote was initially meant to go ahead in December, but was postponed when the PM admitted that she had too few votes to get the agreement passed, so once again the fate of the UK's withdrawal deal hangs in the balance. It seems unlikely that the PM will get the agreement passed this time either, despite pleas not to let 'the British people down', meaning that many of us are left wondering will Brexit actually happen at all?
Since 2016 negotiations have been underway to broker the agreement that marks the UK's 'divorce' from the EU, outlining how Britain will leave the EU, but not what happens afterwards - this is the withdrawal agreement. Several aspects of the withdrawal agreement have hit roadblocks on the way, not least the amount of money that the UK will have to pay the EU to sever the relationship (around 39bn) as well as negotiations surrounding what happens to EU nationals currently living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU.
Arguably the biggest stumbling block however is the negotiations surrounding how to avoid returning to a physical border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland when it becomes a frontier between the UK and the EU, and it's this Northern Irish 'backstop' that's proving to be a major obstacle in getting Mrs May's withdrawal deal through UK parliament. The 'backstop' is intended to be a failsafe that will kick in as a last resort if an agreement cannot be reached over what will happen at the Northern Irish border, however it stipulates that Northern Ireland, but not the rest of the UK, would continue to comply with some EU laws and this is considered by many to be unsatisfactory given that the UK would not be able to end this agreement without the EU's permission, posing the question what on earth is the point of Brexit if parts of the UK and its affairs still fall under EU control?
In the unlikely event that the agreement is passed by MPs tonight, a transitional period will kick in, meaning that there won't be any significant changes between 29th March 2019 and 31st December 2020, giving the UK and businesses time to adjust and allowing time for the UK and EU to broker a trade deal going forward. If parliament rejects the PM's Brexit deal, the government will have up to 3 days to renegotiate and the PM will be able to have another attempt at getting her deal past MPs. However, given the controversy over the Northern Irish 'backstop' it seems increasingly likely that an agreement will not in fact be reached, leaving the possibility that the UK may leave the EU without a deal at all. Currently, should the UK leave the EU without a deal, there will be no transitional period, meaning that EU laws will simply stop applying to the UK when we legally leave the EU on 29th March at 11pm, but here we again find ourselves in unchartered territory with no definite 'plan B'. Many are wondering if there is no deal in place, will there be an extension while the negotiations continue? Given that the EU has stipulated that the UK could cancel Brexit completely without the agreement of any other EU states, the possibility of an extension doesn't actually seem that unlikely, but until tonight we won't know for sure where the the bumpy road to Brexit will take us, if anywhere.
Watch this space!