What are the alternatives to May’s rejected Brexit deal?

Pro-Brexit protesters rally outside parliament.

After Tuesday night’s crushing defeat for Theresa May’s Brexit deal, there is perhaps one thing on which almost all MPs can agree: there is no obvious consensual route forward. Following are the main possibilities, the obstacles they face and an educated guess at how much support they might command. Most of them would probably involve an extension of article 50 beyond the 29 March deadline. Revoking article 50 is also possible, but unlikely without a second referendum.

Tweaked version of May’s deal

This appears to be the prime minister’s current choice: use the heavy loss to go back to Brussels and beg for another concession on the Irish backstop. The problem is that the only changes to the mechanism that would change minds – a guaranteed end date and/or a unilateral pull-out mechanism – have been definitively ruled out by the EU.

Likely support in Commons: little more than the 202 seen on Tuesday if May secures no real changes.

Quick guide

Brexit and backstops: an explainer

A backstop is required to ensure there is no hard border in Ireland if a comprehensive free trade deal cannot be signed before the end of 2020. Theresa May has proposed to the EU that the whole of the UK would remain in the customs union after Brexit, but Brussels has said it needs more time to evaluate the proposal.

As a result, the EU insists on having its own backstop – the backstop to the backstop – which would mean Northern Ireland would remain in the single market and customs union in the absence of a free trade deal, prompting fierce objections from Conservative hard Brexiters and the DUP, which props up her government.

That prompted May to propose a country-wide alternative in which the whole of the UK would remain in parts of the customs union after Brexit.

“The EU still requires a ‘backstop to the backstop’ – effectively an insurance policy for the insurance policy. And they want this to be the Northern Ireland-only solution that they had previously proposed,” May told MPs.

Raising the stakes, the prime minister said the EU’s insistence amounted to a threat to the constitution of the UK: “We have been clear that we cannot agree to anything that threatens the integrity of our United Kingdom,” she added.

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No-deal departure

This is still the default option if MPs find no other way out – a departure on 29 March and a switch to trading on World Trade Organisation terms. However, the Commons has already shown there is a clear majority against this happening, by backing Labour MP Yvette Cooper’s amendment seeking to prevent it happening. And plenty of senior Conservatives have made it clear they would back action to prevent May from pushing ahead with this.

Likely support in Commons: perhaps fewer than 100 would accept it; many fewer want it as a stated ideal choice.

Norway-plus/single market/Efta

These options are closely interlinked, if not the same – for…

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