Up until this point, there has been a relatively simple trick to predicting the likely outcome of Brexit. First: imagine the worst, dumbest, quite frankly cruellest thing that could possibly be decided upon – and then imagine a mismanaged version of that.
But last week, something interesting happened. Theresa May, Captain Clownshoes herself, finally agreed a deal with the EU over the "divorce bill" and Irish border issues. Phase One of the negotiations is now – finally, belatedly – complete. And here's the kicker: the deal she agreed was not the worst one that could possibly have been struck. In fact, the nature of the deal leaves open the possibility that the UK could even stay in the customs union indefinitely, preventing the Tory right from going ahead with their plans to turn the country into a tax haven.
That said, Brexit being Brexit, nothing has really been decided upon – the deal is just a provisional agreement, May's cabinet are already briefing against it, nothing is real and everything is permitted. So what's going to happen? Here are a bunch of speculative possibilities.
BREXIT IN NAME ONLY (BrINO)
Based on May's provisional agreement, the most likely outcome of the Leave negotiations seems like it would be some sort of Norway-type arrangement in which the UK formally leaves the EU while remaining a member of the single market (in other words, the softest of Soft Brexits). The UK would continue to make budget contributions, and would remain subject to the bulk of EU legislation. It just wouldn't be able to influence it.
Advantages include: the economy wouldn't collapse, EU immigrants to the UK wouldn't lose their lives and homes, and the Good Friday Agreement wouldn't be derailed. The key disadvantage would be that the UK wouldn't actually have gained anything from leaving the EU, just traded years of constitutional crisis for... less influence on EU legislation. The fact that, all things considered, this actually looks like a fairly good outcome is a fair indication of just how dangerous the people handling this process are.
Likelihood: Right now, the balance of possibilities has BrINO as the most likely outcome. Which, given the way reality behaves around Brexit, suggests it almost certainly won't happen.
Another reason to think that BrINO won't happen is that, even if some sort of Norway-type arrangement were agreed, this would only be one battle over – not the war. After May struck her deal with the EU last week, Leave.EU moneyman Arron Banks issued a statement in which he accused her of "betraying" the UK and in particular its "17.4 million Leave voters". The deal was, he claimed, "the biggest sell-out of this country since 'Paedo Ted' signed us up to the European project in 1973".
This statement is significant insofar as it indicates the depth of resentment likely to be conjured up by May's acceptance of anything other than a magical Leave deal in which every trifling grievance of everyone over 50 is immediately settled and every problem with the UK economy somehow instantly works itself out. Anything less, and the myth will be born that Brexit hasn't been done "properly" – paving the way for a more dramatic break with the EU in the future.
Likelihood: I mean, quite frankly, even if May was somehow able to strike a deal which gave these people everything they want, they'd probably find some way of losing their shit regardless. The spectre of Resentxit will haunt British politics for decades at least.
Why are we even bothering to do this again? Brexit, of course, never really meant that the UK would emerge from the dull clutches of continental bureaucracy – swashbuckling, imperial and free. But at least for a while the fact of Brexit allowed people to pretend that this is what it meant. If this fantasy can no longer be sustained, then, really, what's the point?
Perhaps it's time to give way to another, alternative fantasy: the fantasy that perhaps the referendum result can be overturned, that it was never even legitimate anyway, in short that the UK will not have to leave the EU. If we can't give the Tory right what they want, perhaps we can at least make a few Lib Dems very happy. Perhaps we can even let them achieve it by forming one of their beloved New Centrist Parties. They'll love that.
Likelihood: No. The fantasies of Lib Dems never come true.
Initially, before her government's propper-uppers in the DUP torpedoed it, May had been planning to strike a deal with the EU that somehow involved Northern Ireland remaining in the customs union, with the rest of the UK dropping out regardless. As soon as this plan came to light, Scotland and London and whoever else were demanding that they be allowed to stay in the customs union as well.
All of which raised the exciting possibility that predominantly Remain-voting areas of the UK could be allowed to stay in the EU, or at least remain subject to their own rules in whatever way they might choose, with only the Leave-voting areas going their own way wholesale. Londoners would get to continue to travel to the continent without having their passports stamped, while Boston, Lincs would win the freedom to set its own railway gauges, food regulations and mobile phone tariffs. Everyone's a winner!
Likelihood: Well, given it would mean we'd have to establish any number of what are essentially international borders internally across the UK, as a solution this would most likely prove unwieldy to the point of being unworkable. So, in short, yes I could probably see this happening.
Theresa May's grip on power has been failing since the election result, and as it trips over itself into the next phase of negotiations her government has never looked closer to collapse. Will the Tories oust her and then call another election – an election that could, today's YouGov poll notwithstanding, see Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party sweep to power? Could Labour then use their new position to influence the Brexit negotiations in a new, worker-friendly direction? Would we, in short, be able to secure every starry-eyed left-dad's dream from the early months of 2016: that wonderful, impossible thing – Lexit?
Likelihood: I mean, a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party is more likely than not to form the next government. But that's barely even half the scenario. The real question is if Corbyn can get in in time to influence the Brexit negotiations, and then use them to secure positive outcomes for British workers. Even if the Tories – ignoring every instinct they might have towards self-preservation – were to call an election tomorrow, this probably wouldn't be a possibility, with any Corbyn cabinet likely to spend the early years of its tenure re-hashing the Cold War with its own backbenches.
VICE prankster Oobah Butler has seen his star rise rapidly in recent weeks, with his piece about turning his shed into London's top-rated restaurant on Tripadvisor landing him, among other things, a plum slot on the This Morning couch. But is new media's premier trickster finally ready to pull off the ultimate scam: the most historically-impactful, click-generating escapade of his career?
By which I mean: is Oobah Butler ready to construct a fake Tory MP persona, convince Westminster he's a real MP with a constituency ("North Rutshire"), challenge Theresa May for the leadership and win it, then negotiate the UK away to the EU for a bucket of beans, just so he can be paid a few hundred quid for an article called "I Pretended to Be the Prime Minister"? Is he finally ready to turn online whimsy into political reality? For all of our sakes, I very much hope he is.
Likelihood: This is the stupidest possibility I've raised, so in that sense we can be certain that it will definitely happen.