LONDON – Britain’s Parliament gets another chance Monday to offer a way forward on Britain’s stalled divorce from the European Union, holding a series of votes on Brexit alternatives in an attempt to find the elusive idea that can command a majority.
With just 12 days until the U.K. must come up with a new plan or crash out of the bloc, the House of Commons was considering a variety of alternatives to Prime Minister Theresa May’s unpopular Brexit deal. Two ideas – staying in the EU customs union or holding a second referendum on Brexit – have emerged as the most likely plans to succeed.
May has ruled out both those ideas. But the divorce deal she negotiated with the EU has been rejected by Parliament three times, leaving Britain less than two weeks from a no-deal Brexit that could cause turmoil for people and businesses on both sides of the Channel.
The chief executive of industrial manufacturer Siemens U.K. implored British lawmakers to unite around a compromise Brexit deal, saying the country’s political chaos was making the U.K. a “laughing stock.”
Juergen Maier urged lawmakers to keep Britain in a customs union with the EU, saying that would allow frictionless trade to continue. In a letter published by the Politico website, Maier said “where the U.K. used to be beacon for stability, we are now becoming a laughing stock.”
May’s spokesman, James Slack, said the prime minister understood that “business wants certainty,” and urged lawmakers to support May’s thrice-rejected Brexit deal.
May could try to bring her Brexit agreement back for a fourth time later this week. Slack said the prime minister “believes there is a majority in the House for leaving in an orderly way with a deal,” and her agreement was the best on offer.
Slack rejected speculation that the government could take drastic action, such as asking Queen Elizabeth II to suspend Parliament or getting her to refuse to sign legislation.
“We don’t have any intention of involving the queen,” he said.
Monday’s votes in Parliament follow an earlier round last week in which none of the eight Brexit options on offer secured a majority.
Staying in the EU customs union or holding a new Brexit referendum were on the table Monday, along with other “soft Brexit” alternatives and a call for a no-deal Brexit in which Britain leaves the EU without a deal on April 12.
The range of choices, and lack of consensus, reflect a Parliament and a government deeply divided over how – and whether – to leave the EU.
Justice Secretary David Gauke said leaving the bloc without a deal was “not the responsible thing for a government to do.”
But his Cabinet colleague Liz Truss said it would be better than a soft Brexit.
“I think that we are well prepared for no deal,” Truss, who is chief secretary to the Treasury, told the BBC. “I don’t have any fear of no deal.”
The divisions within May’s government over what to do next have left many Britons exasperated – including Conservative Party lawmakers.
Chief Whip Julian Smith, whose job is to ensure that Conservative legislators vote for government-backed policies, called the public Cabinet squabbling “the ”worst example of ill-discipline in British political history.”
May has less than two weeks to bridge the hostile divide that separates those in her government who want to sever links with the EU and those who want to keep the ties that have bound Britain to the bloc for almost 50 years.
EU leaders will hold a special summit on April 10 to consider any request from Britain for a longer delay to Brexit — or to make last-minute preparations for Britain’s departure without a deal two days later.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said Monday that it was time for the British Parliament to spell out what it wanted on Brexit.
“A sphinx is an open book in direct comparison with the British Parliament,” he told the Saarland state legislature in Saarbruecken, Germany. “We must get the sphinx to talk now. Enough of the long silence.”
—Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this story.