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United Kingdom

The UK faces a potential summer of turmoil with possible second referendum

Theresa May's bid to get a Brexit deal done and dusted looks doomed to fail after she gave reluctant MPs 'one last chance' to back her plans.

Mrs May today promised a vote on another referendum if the Commons passes her 'new' deal. 

But with very little enthusiasm on both sides of the House, the second reading of the EU withdrawal agreement looks like it could be the end of the road for the PM.   

That vote is set to go ahead on the week beginning June 3, with Friday June 7 the most likely date, so she can get Donald Trump's state visit out of the way first. 

Judging by the reaction from MPs across the House of Commons today the WAB vote is - barring a miracle - already a foregone conclusion.

There is even some speculation that Mrs May could lose by more than she did last time, when her Withdrawal Agreement lost a meaningful vote by 58. 

But assuming they come round and she pulls of some sort of miracle, it will make progress of the law even more complicated than it has been so far.

Details are sparse but Mrs May seems to be offering MPs a promise of a second referendum if the second reading - a key stage in the progress of laws through Parliament - is approved. 

After the second reading both the Commons and the Lords get to suggest amendments (with controversial ones put to the vote themselves) before it returns to the Commons for a final vote. 

The plan appears to be to shoehorn a referendum in at this point, in order the ratify it before it is sent to the Queen for the Royal Assent - the point at which it officially becomes law.

Depending on the terms of the referendum this might introduce an opportunity to halt Brexit - or send the UK closer to leaving without a deal by rejecting the only deal likely to be approved by MPs. 

No timescale has been set for this to happen but later stages of the bill could in theory be rushed through - although Mrs May would be likely to want to give MPs some  time to give proper consideration to it. 

But a referendum could take months to organise and might require the October 31 date for Brexit to be pushed back again. 

Experts have said that a referendum could be organised in 21 weeks and there are still 23 weeks until Halloween, so it could potentially be done, just.

However, that requires MPs to get the WAB to that stage, and it seems a distant prospect tonight 

With Mrs May planning to address her future after the vote however it goes, it looks likely to set up a tumultuous summer of politics.

A Tory leadership campaign looks set to dominate with candidates seeking to set out their stall on dealing with Brexit as a centre-point of their pitches. 

It could be a potentially brutal contest, with Boris Johnson, Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt among the contenders.  

Here is how the drama could play out over the next few weeks and months. 

May 23 - European elections 

Mrs May never wanted the European elections to take place on May 23, having originally planned for the UK to be out of the EU by the end of March.

And the vote is set to show why she hoped to avoid them - with the Tories on course for a drubbing at the hands of Nigel Farage's new Brexit Party.

The picture is also likely to be grim for Labour when the results emerge on Sunday 26 and Bank Holiday Monday, as both main parties pay the price for years of chaos and inaction since the referendum in 2016.  

In an effort to limit the fallout, the government has sent MPs off on a long half-term recess break immediately after the election. However, keeping Tory politicians away from Westminster will not be enough to save the PM from a massive backlash. 

Thursday could also see the text of the WAB published to give Mps time to analyse it. Publishing it this week would allow Mrs May to hold a second reading vote early in the first week back after recess, although she appears short of time to do it.

The Tories on course for a European elections drubbing at the hands of Nigel Farage (pictured campaigning in Brentwood this week) and his new Brexit Party.

June - Withdrawal Agreement Bill, Trump visit

Mrs May has pledged to bring the WAB - before the Commons for a crucial vote in the week of June 3.

The promise succeeded in buying her a few more weeks grace from an increasingly restive Cabinet and Tory MPs. 

But with her own restive MPs, Labour, the DUP and others lining up to kick her plan down, she appears to have little hope of winning the vote. 

If the situation was not fraught enough, the PM must also contend with the arrival of Donald Trump for a long-awaited and controversial three-day State Visit from June 3-5. The leaders are pictured together at Chequers last July

A defeat would be the fourth time her deal with the EU has been rejected by MPs - and Brexit Secretary Steven Barclay has admitted the package would then be 'dead'. 

If the situation was not fraught enough, the PM must also contend with the arrival of Mr Trump for a long-awaited and controversial three-day State Visit. He has not been shy of voicing his disapproval for her Brexit deal, and is widely expected to throw some grenades into the debate. 

Downing Street is still holding out on naming the day of the planned vote, but it is thought to be at the end of the week, meaning  he is likely to have done his throwing before it happens. 

The powerful Tory 1922 committee has told Mrs May that even if by some miracle the Commons vote on WAB is won, she must still immediately set out the timetable for handing over to another leader. 

June-July - Tory leadership contest 

The battle to succeed Mrs May as Tory leader should formally kick off early in June.

Under the process, MPs will whittle what looks to be a crowded field of candidates down to two - with ordinary Conservative members voting to decide the victor.

Mr Johnson is considered the front runner to take the top job, but historically such contests have thrown up surprises. 

Party chiefs hope that the first stage can be completed within a few weeks. The run-off could then either be rushed through in July, or take place over the summer parliamentary recess.

They would want to have a new leader in place before the party conference and the by-then looming October 31 Brexit deadline. 

Boris Johnson (pictured at a business conference in Manchester last week) is considered the front runner to succeed Mrs May, but historically Tory contests have thrown up surprises

September 29-October 2 - Conservative Party conference 

The Tory gathering in Manchester this autumn will be the natural time for a new leader to take the stage and try to unite the fractured party.

Assuming no way has been found to force a Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament by this point, they will need to spell out how they intend to approach the Brexit process.

Victory for a harder-line Brexiteer such as Mr Johnson could see the party vow to leave the EU in a matter of weeks, with or without a deal. 

They will also need to consider whether such a policy can be pushed through the Commons with the current batch of MPs - or whether a general election or another referendum has become unavoidable. 

There is also the matter of a 'stop Boris' campaign among MPs to stop him taking over, which means it may be left to someone else to deal with Brexit. 

October - Second Brexit referendum?

If MPs defy expectations and passed the WAB in a fortnight a referendum could be held in mid-October.  

If the referendum backed the Brexit deal it would then be a relatively quick process to pass it into law by getting the Royal Assent from the Queen before it is then sent to all the heads of states of the European nations for ratification.

October 31 - the new Brexit date

The Brexit extension Mrs May thrashed out with the EU expires on October 31.

Unless another postponement can be agreed, the UK is still scheduled to leave the bloc at this point.

MPs have previously shown a willingness to do anything possible to avoid crashing out of the EU without a deal.

However, the calculation for many Tory MPs might be changed by the mounting threat from the Brexit Party.

With EU leaders such as France's Emmanuel Macron increasingly frustrated by the Brexit limbo, the Commons could be forced into a straight choice between revoking Article 50 - which would cancel the process altogether - or no-deal Brexit. 

Some hardline Brexiteers including leadership candidates Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom have in recent days suggested that we should leave at this point with or without a deal, instead of seeking a further extension.

EU leaders such as France's Emmanuel Macron are increasingly frustrated by the Brexit limbo - raising questions about whether they would agree to another extension beyond October

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