There was lots of drama in Westminster last night, with emotional MPs either glowing with pride at the outcome or spitting nails about traitors and the will of the people.  

But it was social media that brought forth pithier analysis of the outcome - "like the titanic voting for the iceberg to move out of the way". Or on the over-weening narcissism of the House of Commons - "maybe next time they will vote for global warming to stop".

Because those votes have no power to stop the Article 50 process. 

As of this morning the legal position is that the UK will leave the EU at 23:00 London time on Friday 29 March.

Same as it was yesterday morning.

A no-deal crash out is still a live possibility - even if a majority in the House of Commons doesn’t want it.

The only thing the House of Commons can actually do to ensure that the UK does not leave without a deal is to ratify a deal.  Either the deal that has been on the table since last November, or another deal.

Theresa May will attempt to get the deal that is on the table ratified by putting it to a third vote. Three votes on the same deal. Remember that the next time an English person slags you off about having two referendums on the Nice and Lisbon treaties.

If that vote ratifies the Withdrawal Agreement, the European Parliament will have to be convened to ratify it as well. Then legislation passed to make a set of changes to the UK's new relationship with the EU. This will require a technical extension of Article 50, because there is not enough time to do all the technical legal work.

But that should be forthcoming.

That is the deal - what about a deal: a different deal.


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That would require Theresa May abandoning some or all of her "red lines", in which case the EU has said all along it can negotiate a different type of deal.  But the red lines are so restrictive that the deal that’s on the table now is the only deal available.  So the UK government would need to change its "ask" and go for something different - possibly involving an effective membership of the single market and customs union. This would probably eliminate the need for a backstop. It all depends on what the British want from Brexit.

But what is that?  That’s the problem. Right from the very start, back in June 2016, the question asked by EU governments and institutions has been "what do the British want".  We still don’t know - and neither do they.  
Finding out what they want is going to take more time. Time they no longer have.

Bertie Ahern has once again been advancing the idea of "indicative votes"- that the House of Commons vote on a series of resolutions to find out what the members of the house can agree on.  

In a sense this week’s series of votes can be seen as a beginning of that process.  But so far all we know is what they don’t want - they don’t want to leave with no deal.

Of course all of this should have been done back in 2016, before the Article 50 countdown clock was set in motion.  But it wasn’t.  Instead the British have approached this negotiation back-to-front.  

That’s why this unedifying mixture of high drama and low farce is playing out on the Westminster stage for all to see. 

If they decide to go down the new deal route, this will require more time - the use of the one off time-out allowed under Article 50.  The only people who can actually stop the clock are the leaders of the EU27.  And they have made it clear that they will only grant an extension if there is a game plan. 

In other words, they want the British to answer the 2016 question - "what do the British want?".  If the British can do that, there would probably be an extension (as Barnier’s Article 50 team have plans for all negotiating eventualities and can work quite quickly).

I say probably, because there is always a chance of things going wrong - especially if someone wants them to go wrong.  That someone is Nigel Farage, the former leader of UKIP.  Last night on BBC TV he said he was trying do all he could to ensure there would be a veto used at the European Council next Thursday if Theresa May asks for an extension of Article 50.

The extension needs a unanimous decision by the 27, so any state can block it - sending the UK spiralling out of the EU without a deal, despite the wishes of the House of Commons and virtually everyone else in the EU.
Farage had been asked to confirm reports that he had been lobbying Matteo Salvini, leader of the League Party in Italy and effective power behind the throne of the Italian government, to use an Italian veto to block an extension.

The league are no fans of the EU, neither are their coalition partners, The 5 Star Movement. But would they go so far as to provoke a crisis like that?

The league has been happy to big up its bad boy credentials, with Salvini being photographed enjoying a Roman rooftop lunch with Steve Bannon.  And they have an ongoing row with the EU over their first budget.

But is this really enough to cause a political earthquake? Or is this the golden opportunity disruptive parties in Europe have been looking for - a one-off chance to throw a massive rock into the Euro pond?  Or is it just the usual Farage mischief-making? 

Keep taking the vitamin supplements - this one is going to run late ... and "no-deal" is definitely not off the table.