After a tumultuous week in which May’s divorce strategy was rejected by lawmakers for a third time, despite her offer to quit if it passed, the future direction of Brexit remains mired in confusion.
In a bid to break the impasse, lawmakers on Monday voted on four alternative Brexit options, but all four options were defeated.
The four options included remaining in a customs union with the EU; membership of the single market with a customs arrangement; putting any agreed deal to a second referendum; and halting Brexit altogether if necessary to avoid leaving the bloc without a deal.
The option that came closest to getting a majority was a proposal to keep Britain in a customs union with the EU, defeated by three votes.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay told the House of Commons the default legal position is that the UK will leave the EU in 11 days’ time, and that to secure an extension Britain must provide a “credible” plan.
All 10 MPs from the Northern Irish party propping up British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government voted against the four alternative Brexit options.
May will now seek to break the Brexit deadlock as she gathers her Cabinet for a marathon session of crisis talks in Downing Street on Tuesday.
The Prime Minister and her senior ministers will take stock after MPs again failed to find a majority for a series of alternatives to her Brexit deal.
The first three hours of the five-hour meeting will be without civil servants, fuelling speculation the senior Tories could use the time to consider a snap election, the timing of the Prime Minister’s exit from office or to air the bitter grievances between the cabinet’s Leave and Remain wings.
May’s government and her Conservative Party, which has been trying to contain a schism over Europe for 30 years, are now riven between those who are demanding that May pilot a decisive break with the bloc and those demanding that she rule out such an outcome.
If May were to throw her weight behind either camp, she would risk tearing her party apart and bringing down the government.
Britain had been due to leave the EU on March 29 but the political deadlock in London forced May to ask the bloc for a delay. As things stand, Britain will now depart at 2200 GMT on April 12.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was “disappointing” that none of the alternative options had won a majority, but said MPs should have a chance to consider them again on Wednesday.
European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt, meanwhile, tweeted: “The House of Commons again votes against all options. A hard Brexit becomes nearly inevitable. On Wednesday, the UK has a last chance to break the deadlock or face the abyss.”
Conservative former minister Nick Boles, raising a point of order, said he can “no longer sit for this party” as it was incapable of compromise and resigned.
Business leaders savaged MPs for the impasse.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said families would suffer with higher prices and less choice without a deal.
“Parliamentarians are playing a reckless game of chicken which will end in disaster unless enough MPs can be persuaded to back a clear outcome which avoids a chaotic no-deal Brexit,” Dickinson said.
Chief executive of London First, Jasmine Whitbread, said: “Once again, Parliament has failed to back a horse and, once again, we find ourselves with only days to go before we are due to leave the EU without a deal – the one thing Parliament does agree we should avoid.
“The Government must now accept the need to ask the EU for a longer extension or better still, revoke Article 50, as that is the only unilateral way to take no deal off the table.”
Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright said UK business confidence in political leadership was running out, and that the UK needed to request a sufficient extension to Article 50 to “allow a complete rethink”.
– PA with Reuters
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