Brexit: what happens next?

The UK is still – officially – expected to leave the European Union on March 29.

But that could change depending on events next week as the Brexit process enters a critical period.

Theresa May faces a crunch vote on her Brexit deal next week (Christopher Furlong/PA)
Theresa May faces a crunch vote on her Brexit deal next week (Christopher Furlong/PA)

– What is happening in Brussels?

Technical talks with the European Union are still continuing, but discussions involving Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay earlier in the week failed to make progress, with both sides describing them as “difficult”.

Negotiations are set to continue over the weekend. with the possibility of the Prime Minister travelling to Brussels on Monday to meet Jean-Claude Juncker if there is a breakthrough on changes to the Northern Ireland backstop.

Whatever concessions are secured will be closely scrutinised by Tory and DUP Eurosceptics before Theresa May faces a showdown with MPs over the revised deal.

– What is happening in Westminster?

MPs will vote on the revised Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on March 12. The last time the Brexit deal was voted on by MPs, Mrs May suffered a humiliating 230-vote defeat.

Labour has indicated it will use the meaningful vote to support a call for a referendum on a Brexit deal.

If Mrs May’s plan is rejected again, MPs will vote on March 13 on whether they want a no-deal Brexit.

Should MPs reject that, there will be another vote on whether Parliament wants to seek ​a “short, limited extension to Article 50” – delaying the UK’s departure beyond the current March 29 deadline.

– How could Brexit be delayed and for how long?

To secure an extension to Article 50, Mrs May would need the support of the 27 other EU states. They are likely to agree to an extension as long as there was a prospect of a deal being reached – or a referendum or general election which could change the political picture at Westminster.

The looming European elections in May present a problem, with the UK currently not expected to take part.

That would limit any extension of the UK’s membership of the EU until the end of June, as the newly-elected parliament sits in July.

If a longer extension was sought, that would mean taking part in the elections, something likely to fuel Eurosceptic anger – and potentially see Nigel Farage standing for the new Brexit Party.

Former prime ministers Gordon Brown and Sir John Major have both argued that an extension of up to a year should be sought to allow a proper public consultation on Brexit.

Countdown to Brexit
(PA Graphics)

-So what happens on March 29?

Impossible to say at this stage. If there is a deal, with a transition period, then although the UK will formally leave the EU at 11pm, very little will change.

If there is a delay, the UK will still be in the European Union until the extension period expires.

But if there is a no-deal Brexit, things are a lot more uncertain – the Government has been ramping up preparations to try to prevent shortages of food and medicine amid fears that increased bureaucracy will clog up key ports where goods arrive from the Continent.