The alternative Brexit options

AFP London, UK Mar 27, 2019, 07.20 PM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

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Three years after Britain decided to leave the European Union, lawmakers have become deadlocked on how -- or even whether -- the country should proceed with its departure from the bloc.

British MPs are set to hold a series of votes Wednesday on different Brexit options in a bid to break paralysis in parliament on the issue.

Three years after Britain decided to leave the European Union, lawmakers have become deadlocked on how -- or even whether -- the country should proceed with its departure from the bloc.

More than a dozen amendments covering an array of scenarios have been put forward, with parliamentary speaker John Bercow first set to choose which will be voted on.  

Some build on Prime Minister Theresa May's twice-rejected divorce deal while others offer stark alternatives -- including leaving without a deal and stopping Brexit altogether. 

Here are the main options being considered:

Customs union

Several of the proposals advocate Britain remaining in the EU customs union -- likely after adopting May's withdrawal plan and its implementation period to the end of 2020. 

Committing fully to the customs union would end the dispute over her deal's provisions for the Irish border, ensuring it remains open after Brexit.

This option is favoured by the main opposition Labour Party -- alongside close alignment to the EU single market -- as well as cross-party groups of MPs.

But opponents argue it would hinder Britain's ability to strike trade deals with countries around the world, and the Conservative Party manifesto vowed Britain would leave the customs union.

Norwegian model

Although outside the EU, energy-rich Norway is in the European Economic Area (EEA) -- alongside Iceland and Liechtenstein -- meaning they benefit from membership of the single market but do not have a say in the making of its rules.

They must also allow the free movement of goods, capital, services and people -- the EU's four freedoms -- with member states.

However, they are not in the customs union.

Some British lawmakers pushing this approach have also proposed that London adds comprehensive customs arrangements with the EU, in a plan dubbed "Common Market 2.0".

Its advantages are Britain's large services sector -- including the financial hub in the capital -- would be undisturbed, while goods trade, including across the contentious Irish border, could continue unimpeded.

But critics say it would leave Britain hostage to EU rules, and also fall foul of the promise of the Brexit campaign to limit immigration.

Second Brexit referendum

Many Remain-backing MPs see a second referendum as the most viable path towards preventing Brexit, while others believe it could simply break the stalemate.

However, there has never been clarity over what the referendum would ask, other than the cross-party People's Vote campaign insisting that staying in the EU must be one of the choices.

A compromise put forward by some Labour MPs calls only for "a confirmatory public vote" on any government deal reached with the EU -- including the prime minister's current plan.

That could garner more support than a vote earlier this month when a majority of MPs rejected postponing the Brexit date in order to hold another referendum.

Cancel Brexit

The most dramatic option would be to cancel Brexit altogether by revoking Article 50, the departure mechanism that set a two-year clock ticking down to March 29, Britain's original exit day.

With two of the amendments urging this measure to avoid a no-deal departure, Bercow may give MPs the chance to vote on the option.


If no alternative course can be agreed, Britain will default to "third country" status with the EU as early as April 12, with trade relations run on World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.

This involves tariffs and increased barriers that could disrupt the seamless supply chains that connect Britain and the EU.

Lawmakers have already voted overwhelmingly to reject this option, meaning the speaker is doubtful to pick a new amendment Wednesday again calling for it.