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Brexit: What to expect as UK hurtles toward deadline

While U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May was offered an extension to next week's Brexit deadline by EU leaders in Brussels on March 21, without a change in the law, the U.K. is still set to leave the bloc at 11 p.m. on March 29.

While a vote on that issue is likely to pass, a ballot on May's Brexit deal is expected to fail for a third time after it failed to garner a majority in Parliament in two previous votes on January 15 and March 12. However, May will first have to convince House of Commons Speaker John Bercow that a third vote on a largely unchanged bill is legal. May could also decide not to hold the vote if it is clear that she will lose.

If there is a lot of uncertainty around the most fundamental issues to be tackled next week, the possibilities proliferate even further once a first decision is made.

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May was offered a delay to Brexit until May 22 as long as members of Parliament pass her withdrawal agreement in a third vote in the House of Commons. However, if MPs vote down the agreement again, the EU has said that Britain has until April 12 to set out its next steps or face leaving without a deal.

The U.K. cannot delay its exit past May 22 unless it agrees to take part in EU parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for May 23-26. May has said it "would be wrong" to ask British people to take part in the elections nearly three years after they voted to leave the EU.

Should MPs reject the prime minister’s deal again and continue to oppose a no-deal Brexit, then there could be a new negotiation with the EU over withdrawal, but this would involve a long delay to Britain’s departure from the bloc. Options then include no deal, renegotiation, a second referendum, a general election, a no-confidence motion or no Brexit at all.

Many of those possibilities may get an airing next week in a series of indicative votes by MPs, according to Sky News. The seven options would be: the Prime Minister’s deal; revoking Article 50, the legal clause under which the U.K. is set to quit the EU; a second referendum; opting for a standard free trade agreement between the two sides; the Prime Minister's deal including retaining membership of the EU customs union; her deal including membership of the EU's customs union and the single market; or no deal.

Calls to quit

Meanwhile, May is facing calls to quit if her own deal for the U.K. to leave the European Union fails to pass a third vote in the House of Commons next week. Senior Conservative MP Graham Brady was reported in the Daily Telegraph to have told the Prime Minister that he has been "bombarded with texts" from colleagues calling on her to quit after she dismayed MPs in her own party with her handling of Brexit.

The day before her arrival in Brussels, the prime minister incurred the anger of MPs across the House of Commons with a televised speech from Downing Street in which she appeared to blame MPs for playing "political games" and forcing her to ask the EU for a delay to Brexit. Even Julian Smith, her chief enforcer of party discipline, reportedly told fellow Conservative MPs that her speech was "appalling."

Following her trip to Brussels, she attempted to backtrack and said that she understood MPs had "difficult jobs to do" and that she wanted to make it "very clear" that she would work with the Commons on how to proceed.

However, her speech was the last straw for many of her own MPs. May won a vote of no confidence in December, and under Conservative party rules, she cannot be challenged again for 12 months.

May tight-lipped

The prime minister has not indicated what she would do if her deal was voted down a third time. However, MPs have already voted overwhelmingly not to leave the EU without a deal, though the vote was not legally binding.

European Council President Donald Tusk said following the Brussels meeting that "all options remain on the table" until April 12, which is the deadline by which the U.K. would have to say whether it would field candidates in the European Parliament elections. Tusk said the British government "will still have a chance of a deal, no deal, a long extension or revoking Article 50."

May has dismissed calls to revoke Article 50 and said the British people had voted to leave and had been told their decision would be implemented.

"We didn't say, 'Tell us what you think and we'll think about it.' We said, 'Here's the vote, what is your decision, and we will deliver on that,'" she said.

The government faces an additional problem as the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, who oversees parliamentary procedure, has said that he will not accept a third vote on the same deal. He said the deal would have to be substantially different in order to be put to MPs again. The Solicitor General, Robert Buckland, said Bercow’s decision had resulted in "a major constitutional crisis." However, there could be a solution if MPs voted to suspend the rule Bercow invoked, for instance.