Stockholm (Ekonamik) – On the day Britain was originally slated to “take back control” from the European Union, MPs rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan for the third time Friday, by 344 votes to 286, despite a number of Conservative backbenchers who had previously rejected Mrs May’s deal twice switching to support the agreement.
The United Kingdom now has until April 12 to propose a new way forward, or crash out of the European Union without a deal.
House of Commons speaker John Bercow had declined Wednesday to allow a third vote for Mrs May’s deal unless it was substantially modified, so Mrs May put forth only half of her Brexit deal – the Withdrawal Agreement, which covers the financial settlement, citizens’ rights and the Northern Ireland backstop – to the vote Friday, in a final attempt to secure the support of MPs.
The UK cannot legally leave the EU without getting MP approval for both the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration, but Mrs May had hoped to secure the support of her backbenchers and enough Labour party members for her deal, which would have allowed more time for the Political Declaration to be voted through parliament.
Mrs May made the dramatic gesture to sacrifice her premiership following amplifying calls for her to resign in a final bid to secure the Tory votes for the Withdrawal Act. In the event, Labour members refused to follow suit, and the Democratic Unionist Party upon which Mrs May relies also remained determined not to support it.
Following the defeat of eight proposed amendments Wednesday for an alternative to Brexit, including a vote on maintaining the customs union which came the closest to succeeding, MPs supporting a soft Brexit are working on a new round of votes on the alternatives Monday. These include a compromise intended to combine the support of the MPs who voted for the customs union, the Labour Brexit plan and the “common-market 2.0” option this week.
It is doubtful in the current climate whether any of these provisional votes can pass, and with Parliament this deadlocked, a general election is becoming increasingly likely. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn again called for a general election following Mrs May’s defeat.
This, however, appears to be contingent for conservatives on a new Tory leader being in place. Labour’s calculation in refusing to provide support for the Withdrawal Act was that it would only embolden the mostly Hard Brexit Tories vying for Mrs May’s job, such as Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg or Michael Gove, and that one of these would then be in a position to dictate the terms of Brexit.
This may yet be the case, although at present a Tory leadership contest isn’t expected to begin until early summer, and Mrs May’s offer to resign was contingent on her deal being voted through.
Meanwhile, she must now return to Brussels before April 12 to request a longer delay, which would require Britain to participate in the European elections in May – something European leaders are keen to avoid – or accept a no-deal Brexit.
Video: MPs vote against Theresa May’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement for the third time (The Guardian)