Before we even begin, let’s be clear – the UK has left the EU.
Brexit officially happened on 31 January 2020 and the paperwork has been signed.
But while the ink may be dry on Britain’s exit, the future of its relationship with its biggest trading partner is still in the balance – and decisions are looming for the UK’s political parties.
If an agreement is reached, the deal, or elements of the deal, will need to be signed off by the UK Parliament.
And after years of division between and within political parties, it may not be straightforward.
But that is a big if. Sticking points between the UK and EU still remain and come Sunday, we may find out there isn’t even a deal to be done.
So how will politicians approach any significant vote if or when it comes? And what are the parties’ positions when it comes to a no deal?
The Tory ranks
Let’s start with the Conservatives, who instigated the referendum on whether to Remain or Leave back in 2016.
Boris Johnson negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the EU (a bit like divorce papers) in 2019 and called a general election.
His big win last December resulted in a secure mandate from the British public to “Get Brexit Done” – and get it through Parliament.
You would expect with a stonking 78-strong majority (in other words, having 78 more Tory MPs than all the other parties combined), getting his MPs to vote for the trade deal would be a walk in the park, right?
Well, it may be more of a taxing jog, depending on the detail.
- Brexit happened but rules didn’t change at once: The UK left the European Union on 31 January 2020, but leaders needed time to negotiate a deal for life afterwards – they got 11 months.
- Talks are happening: The UK and the EU have until 31 December 2020 to agree a trade deal as well as other things, such as fishing rights.
- If there is no deal: Border checks and taxes will be introduced for goods travelling between the UK and the EU. But deal or no deal, we will still see changes.
What happens next with Brexit?
Only recently, the PM faced a rebellion from 55 of his MPs about the latest coronavirus restrictions for England – and many of them came from the Eurosceptic wing of the party, who have held Mr Johnson to task over the negotiations.
As the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg has said, that was perhaps an “opportune moment” to remind Downing Street they won’t suck up any old deal.
In fact, that wing of the party – mostly from the backbench European Research Group – could be celebrating come Sunday if no deal is reached, having repeated the mantra “no deal is better than a bad deal” throughout the Brexit process.
Tory backbencher Tom Hunt seemed to speak for most of that grouping when he told the Commons on Thursday: “The biggest failure would be to capitulate and accept a deal that would not fully accept a sovereign Britain leaving the EU.”
But while the Remain rebels of yesteryear, such as Ken Clarke, have mostly left the Conservative benches, there are still some convinced that a deal is the best way forward, and the PM could face some unease if he doesn’t return to the House with an agreement.
Former minister Greg Clark appealed in the Commons for all efforts to be made by Mr Johnson to secure a deal, saying it would be a “huge relief and a huge boost to confidence” for businesses across Britain.
The fact is many of Mr Johnson’s new MPs are fully signed up to the Brexit cause that got them elected and many of the Remain-backing rebels have, since January, accepted the change so it is possible the majority of the party will fall in line with the boss and get behind the package if and when it is brought to the House.
But it won’t remove all tensions from a party that still has some differing opinions on its future relationship with the EU.
What about Labour?
Just over 12 months ago, Labour was campaigning in a general election with Jeremy Corbyn at the forefront, promising to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement and to put their own Brexit plan to a fresh public vote.
But instead of getting the keys to No 10, he and his party got a thrashing, with their worst election result since 1935.
While it is fair to say Labour was a Remain-leaning party, there was a band of Leave backers in its ranks, and most MPs from both camps now say they accept Brexit and want to move on.
That includes the party’s new leader, Sir Keir Starmer, who has repeatedly said he wants to get a trade deal with the EU.
Sir Keir has gone to great lengths to avoid the issue of Brexit up till now. But that changed in the hours before Mr Johnson’s meeting with Ursula von der Leyen, when Sir Keir focused his weekly questioning of the PM on the topic.
The Labour leader suggested he’d back a deal if the prime minister brought one back to the Commons, saying: “If there is a deal, and I hope there’s a deal, then my party will vote in the national interest – not on party political lines, as he is doing.”
But reports are circulating that the pro-EU members on his front bench don’t want to back it, while others are arguing for an abstention.
One thing the party seems unanimous about is where it stands on a no deal.
Sir Keir, his deputy Angela Rayner, and many others from Labour have said it would be a “failure” of government not to secure one and the blame would land squarely at Mr Johnson’s big black door.
Analysis of the 2019 election result shows time and time again that the stance on Brexit lost Labour some of its traditional seats in the so-called Red Wall, so voting against it is unlikely to play well in the party’s former heartlands.
However, the leadership will have the added pressure from Remain supporters to contend with too.
And the Liberal Democrats?
The Lib Dems were not just the party of Remain in 2019 – they were the party of Revoke.
They went into battle promising to cancel Brexit altogether if they secured the majority they hoped for in December.
But party leader Jo Swinson lost her own seat, and the party’s total number of MPs fell to just 11.
There was a backlash to her strategy, with Lib Dem post-match analysis saying many saw the Revoke plan as “undemocratic”.
Now the party has a new leader in charge, former energy secretary Sir Ed Davey, who remembers the days when he had upwards of 50 colleagues in the chamber.
Sir Ed has refrained from attacking his predecessor’s plan too harshly – as he did stand by her throughout the election campaign.
But while he has called for the “closest possible relationship” with the EU, he has ruled out calling for the UK to rejoin the bloc in the near future.
What if there is a deal on the table?
The Lib Dem leadership is against a hard Brexit but also against a no deal.
It would be strange to see the party walking through the yes lobby to support the government on an issue they have rallied so hard against.
What are the views of the SNP?
The SNP has always stood firmly and loudly against Brexit.
Listen to almost any of the party’s MPs question Boris Johnson at PMQs and opposition is clear.
If Mr Johnson brought a deal back to Parliament, the official line would be to take a look at what is on offer. But our sources say it is unlikely the party would ever vote yes.
Remember, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to Remain in the referendum and they say this gives them a mandate to reject Brexit in its entirety.
And with the party’s end goal an independent Scotland – which, they argue, would allow them to rejoin the EU on their own terms – they are looking to the future, especially with elections for the Scottish Parliament set for May 2021.
But there is no guarantee of a second referendum, and the SNP have repeatedly raised the risks of a no-deal Brexit.
Just this week, MP Philippa Whitford said it would “deal another blow to our economy, businesses, and to people’s livelihoods”.
So while they will be vocal critics if the PM doesn’t deliver a deal, they are unlikely to vote for a deal either.
Don’t forget the DUP
They may be a small bunch – though not much smaller than the Lib Dems – but the Democratic Unionist Party played a big role in Brexit days gone by.
The Northern Irish party held the balance of power during Theresa May’s tenure, after a less-than-perfect win for the Tories at the 2017 election meant they relied on their friends’ support (and ensured it with a cool £1bn deal) in a hung Parliament.
But while the so-called confidence and supply agreement saw them support Theresa May’s government, the DUP believe in Brexit and weren’t going to vote for a deal they didn’t believe in.
Exit May and enter Johnson. The new PM worked hard to get them on side in the early months of his premiership. But once that aforementioned stonking election result came in last December, he no longer relied on the DUP’s precious 10 votes to get his deal passed, and they dropped down the billing on the Brexit stage.
The PM may not be concerning himself about their support any more, but if you recall, the DUP strongly allied themselves with Eurosceptics in the Tory party, who in turn backed their staunch position on being a valued member of the union.
And if those Brexiteers take a disliking to a trade deal, it would not be a surprise for the DUP to follow suit.
They do have the added pressure of representing the part of the UK which has the only land border with the EU post-Brexit.
The party has not favoured the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, signed up to in the withdrawal agreement in an attempt to keep trade going between the two sides, which essentially sees the area remain in the EU single market for goods, while the rest of the UK leaves.
This has led to calls from the party’s MPs, including Sammy Wilson, for the government to “act unilaterally to protect the Northern Ireland economy and Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom”.
The have had some reassurances after Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove signed off arrangements for the border regardless of whether a full trade deal is agreed or not.
But pointing to the measure of extra time for Northern Ireland to phase in new supply checks for supermarkets, the DUP’s Westminster leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, warned Westminster “safeguarding the union is not a three-month project”.
So there is no guarantee of support from this particular grouping in the House.
The are a few other parties represented in the Commons in smaller numbers, such as the Greens, Wales’ Plaid Cymru and Northern Ireland’s SLDP.
If it were to come down to a small number of votes, the strong Remain stance of all these parties could have a part to play.
But for now, we have to wait for Sunday’s outcome to see whether politicians from across the UK will be facing decisions on an EU trade deal, or the prospect of a future without one.