Brexit: six key points ahead of a decisive week
The FT's UK political commentator Robert Shrimsley outlines what needs to be kept in mind as time runs out for Theresa May and parliament heads into a momentous and decisive week
Filmed by Petros Gioumpasis. Edited by Joe Sinclair
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The UK Parliament has already had some momentous days as MPs try to thrash out Britain's post-Brexit future. But the week ahead is shaping up to be one of the most decisive and momentous of all. There are a few things we need to remember, however, about what could be the decisive week in British politics.
One, the fundamental power doesn't actually lie with the British Parliament. It's up to the European Union now to decide whether it wants to grant the UK an extension to the Brexit process, and how long that extension should be, and also, what conditions it wishes to attach to it. Parliament can say what it wants about the future. This decision now is in Europe's hands.
There are actually a number of areas that we agree on in relation to Brexit.
Two, while it's very exciting to see Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, the leader the opposition, entering into cross-party talks to see if they can work out a Brexit deal, the truth is these talks aren't really the ballgame. For a start, they don't really get on. They don't trust each other. They don't particularly like each other.
And the chances of them reaching a consensus are relatively low. They have a fundamentally different view about the way the process should work. Furthermore, even if Jeremy Corbyn felt he had a deal with Theresa May, he knows that she's going as prime minister soon, and that whatever he works out is actually going to have to be implemented by another conservative leader.
Three-- even if Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May can't find a solution themselves, the prime minister has agreed to abide by the will of Parliament. She's agreed to hold more votes next week to find out where the majority position is, and has said her government will go along with it.
Four-- although Theresa May has said she will abide by the will of Parliament, the actual voting mechanism for ascertaining that will is yet to be sorted out. We know that in previous indicative votes, Parliament failed to deliver a majority for anything. So the chances are that the government is going to come up with a voting system in which a winner has to emerge-- maybe by preferential votes, maybe by single transferable vote, maybe by some other mechanism. The way that's structured and the ideas that are allowed to be put into that could be fundamental in determining what happens.
Will no deal be allowed to be an option in those votes? If it is, it could make it far harder for Theresa May to get a majority for her deal. If it's not, then her deal immediately becomes the most hard line Brexit option, and one around which a lot of MPs will coalesce.
Five, campaigners for a second referendum believe they now have a real chance of getting their desire. But a referendum itself doesn't settle what the future direction is. The MPs have still got to decide which path they take, as well as whether they want to attach a referendum to that destination.
They're still going to have to choose the Prime Minister's deal, a permanent customs union, the so-called Common Market 2.0 option, and then decide whether they want a referendum added to that.
And lastly, the negotiations with the European Union are nowhere near over. Whatever path Britain chooses, aside perhaps from cancelling Brexit, the UK is going to have to go back to the negotiating table with the European Union and work out its future relationship. Whatever happens, we're still going to be the weaker partner in those negotiations.