Now that the U.K. and the European Union have reached a draft withdrawal agreement, both sides begin the long and arduous process of getting it approved. Prime Minister Theresa May began making her case Thursday in the British House of Commons but five cabinet ministers have already quit, including Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, who resigned Thursday morning, and there could be more to come. Here’s a look at what happens next and the many pitfalls that could occur.
First there will be a special summit of EU leaders, likely on Nov. 25, where the deal will be reviewed. It’s expected to be approved easily, although officials in France, Germany and the Netherlands have said they want to take a close look to make sure the U.K. isn’t getting any special advantages.
The next big hurdle comes in early December when the British House of Commons will vote on the agreement. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives don’t hold a majority of seats and up to 50 Tory MPs have said they won’t vote for the deal. Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which has been propping up Ms. May’s minority government, has also said it doesn’t like the deal. And the leaders of all the opposition parties, including Labour, have come out against it. All of which means Ms. May will have to do a lot of arm twisting and convincing to find enough support to get the agreement approved. That’s not impossible, as some Labour MPs could defy their leader and back the agreement, but it won’t be easy. If the agreement is voted down, the government has 21 days to come back with something different. If that also fails, no one knows what will happen. The U.K. could leave the EU in March without a deal, there could be an election, or the government could hold a referendum on the proposed agreement.
The European parliament and all EU member states also have to approve the withdrawal agreement. There’s less likelihood of opposition here, but surprises can happen. Remember when Wallonia held up the Canada-EU trade deal?
And one other thing to keep in mind: This is only the withdrawal agreement. Both sides haven’t even started negotiations on a trade deal. And that could take years.
Here are some more key dates and figures:
- March 29, 2019: This is when the U.K. formally leaves the EU. The date can be extended, but only if both sides agree, including every EU member state.
- 320: That’s the number of MPs needed in the British House of Commons to pass the deal. There are 650 seats in total, but the working number is smaller because of several empty seats. For example, Sinn Fein MPs don’t take their seats for political reasons and the Speaker and three deputy Speakers don’t vote. Throw in a few vacancies and suspensions and the working figure is 639. There are 315 Tory MPs, including the Speaker and deputies. Around 50 Tories have said they won’t vote for the deal, leaving Ms. May a big hill to climb to get to 320.
- 48: That’s the number of Tory MPs needed to call a confidence vote in Ms. May’s leadership. If a confidence vote is held among Tory MPs and Ms. May wins, she remains leader and another vote cannot be held for a year. If she loses, she must resign and she cannot run for re-election. If there is a leadership election, MPs will vote among themselves for a replacement. The top two finishers in that vote are submitted to party members, who will select the winner.
- 44 per cent: The EU is by far the U.K.’s biggest trading partner, accounting for 44 per cent of total exports. Around 53 per cent of all U.K. imports come from the EU, too. If there’s no Brexit deal, many business leaders worry that the U.K. could face stiff tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade. However, many hard-Brexit backers say the country would thrive if it cut all ties to the EU and simply negotiated a trade deal, along the lines of the Canada-EU deal. The U.K. would also be free to negotiate trade deals with other countries, something it can’t do now as a member of the EU.
- 585: This is the number of pages in the withdrawal agreement.
- 7: This the number of pages in the outline for the future trade relationship. Clearly, there’s a long way to go on this part of Brexit.