British MPs vote on alternative Brexit plan

Mrs Theresa May during Prime Minister's Question Time yesterday in the House of Commons in London. The British premier is still desperately short of votes for her Brexit plan and a third successive defeat would weaken her further.
Mrs Theresa May during Prime Minister's Question Time yesterday in the House of Commons in London. The British premier is still desperately short of votes for her Brexit plan and a third successive defeat would weaken her further.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Among the options: Second referendum, recalling exit notice

LONDON • Britain's Parliament was yesterday set to hold a series of votes to explore an alternative Brexit solution as pressure mounted on Prime Minister Theresa May to resign if she wanted her own unpopular plan approved.

Three years after Britons voted to break the country's near half-century bond with the European Union, this week was supposed to see the endgame - but no clear end is in sight.

Parliament has twice rejected the deal forged by the EU and Mrs May, who personally favoured staying in the bloc before becoming head of a government tasked with steering Britain out of it.

But House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said yesterday "there's a real possibility" that Mrs May would try again to get her deal passed today or tomorrow.

The price of failure could be high. Mrs May is still desperately short of votes and a third successive defeat would weaken her further.

EU leaders have given Britain a new extended deadline of April 12 to get Mrs May's deal ratified or find a new way out. Failure to do either could result in a no-deal divorce that could disrupt trade on both sides of the Channel and send the British pound plunging.

Alternatively, Britain could seek an even longer extension, putting it in the bizarre situation of having to take part in European Parliament elections nearly two months after it was supposed to have left.

Britain's Parliament decided to break the deadlock by giving itself the right to choose from a variety of alternatives to Mrs May's plan.

It will vote at 1900 GMT (3am Singapore time) on options that range from holding a second referendum to recalling the EU withdrawal notice and maintaining ties with the bloc.

Mrs May's own deal is not one of the 16 proposals submitted for debate to Parliament Speaker John Bercow. He was expected to announce the ones that will be on the agenda at around 1530 GMT.

Time has been set aside on Monday for MPs to try to whittle down the most popular options to a final plan.

"It is very unlikely that today's votes will reveal a majority for anything," said Conservative MP Oliver Letwin, who is spearheading the initiative.

Mrs May will hope that none of the alternatives get majority support and that her own agreement ends up looking like the best option.

Her government is banking on rebels who oppose the EU getting frightened by the prospect of Brexit being either overturned or watered down.

She has already won the backing of Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg - the ultra-conservative who heads the European Research Group wing of her party that twice voted against the deal. "I think we've got to the point where legally leaving is better than not leaving at all," he told BBC radio yesterday. "Half a loaf is better than no bread."

But the Northern Irish coalition partners on whom Mrs May relies for support in Parliament made clear that they would rather see Brexit extended by a year than vote for her plan.

Other holdouts are making their votes contingent on Mrs May's promise to step down after Brexit, so another leader would negotiate the next stage of the process.

"If the Prime Minister announces a timetable of departure, I think that's going to swing a lot of people behind her deal, we could get it over the line," said Conservative MP Nigel Evans.

Mrs May was due to meet an influential group of Conservative Party members in Parliament at 1700 GMT.

European leaders are watching the entire process with concern. European Council President Donald Tusk urged EU lawmakers yesterday to remain open to a long postponement while Britain rethinks its stance.

"I said that we should be open to a long extension if the UK wishes to rethink its Brexit strategy, which would of course mean the UK's participation in the European Parliament elections," Mr Tusk said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2019, with the headline 'British MPs vote on alternative Brexit plan'. Print Edition | Subscribe