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15 February 2019

Theresa May has been defeated over Brexit, yet again. So what’s the way out of the Brexit crisis?

Just 42 days to go, everyone.

By Stephen Bush

Theresa May has been defeated over Brexit in the House of Commons. (Again.) It underlines the major problem with any resolution to the Brexit crisis: there is a parliamentary majority, consisting of the bulk of the Conservative Party, the DUP and ten to 30 Labour MPs, for leaving the European Union under some form of May’s deal. But it can only cohere around a set of demands that cannot be achieved via negotiation with the EU.

There is another parliamentary majority, consisting of the bulk of the Labour Party, the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Caroline Lucas and ten to 30 Conservative MPs, that opposes leaving the European Union without a deal. But it cannot cohere around what it wants other than rejecting no deal. 

Something has to give to prevent us leaving without a deal on 29 March. 

Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, you need a minimum of 26 working days for an election (parliament has to vote for one, the sovereign has to dissolve parliament and the act itself requires 25 working days). There are just 31 working days left until 29 March so an election means an extension, whether as the last act of the outgoing government or the first act of the incoming one. 

What about another referendum? Well, again, a referendum requires an extension. And the path to a parliamentary majority for an extension, let alone a referendum or an election, is far from clear.

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What is clear is that the only negotiated outcome that can pass this parliament, without some kind of fresh input from the people, is one that can command the support of the majority of Labour MPs. But it is not certain that there is any resolution to the Brexit crisis that can do that, either.