What Next? U.K. lawmakers torn on fate of Brexit, and May
Options charting a way forward could mean an exit at the end of May – or the end of May
LONDON – Britain has just a few weeks to break its Brexit impasse, with the fate of the country’s departure from the European Union and that of Prime Minister Theresa May both hanging in the balance.
Here’s a look at what might happen next:
DEAL OR NO DEAL
With British politicians deadlocked, EU leaders last week granted Britain a two-stage “flextension” to Brexit, which had been due to take place on March 29. Under the new plan, if U.K. lawmakers approve the divorce deal agreed upon between Britain and the bloc, the country will leave the EU on May 22.
If they defeat it, Britain has until April 12 to tell the EU what it plans to do next: leave without a deal, risking economic chaos, or seek a long delay to Brexit and chart a course toward a softer exit or even remaining in the bloc.
The battle now shifts back to the British Parliament, which is split down the middle between supporters and opponents of Brexit.
Both sides voted in large numbers, twice, to reject May’s Brexit deal. But May wants to try again. She hopes to persuade reluctant pro-Brexit lawmakers that backing her deal is their only hope of leaving soon and in an orderly fashion, and to convince pro-EU legislators that they must choose between her deal or a chaotic no-deal Brexit.
But May conceded Monday that “as things stand, there is still not sufficient support” for a new vote on the deal, though she hoped to change that before the end of the week.
There is little evidence yet that lawmakers’ opinion has shifted strongly in favour of May’s deal.
Anti-EU supporters of “hard Brexit” still believe that rejecting it can lead to a no-deal departure from the bloc as soon as April 12.
A larger group in Parliament, from a range of parties, favours a compromise Brexit in which the U.K. keeps close economic ties with the bloc.
These pro-EU lawmakers had a victory late Monday when the House of Commons agreed 329-302 to take temporary control of the parliamentary agenda, usually the government’s prerogative, to schedule a series of votes on alternative Brexit options. The goal of the “indicative votes” is to see if there is majority support for any of the alternatives.
Proposals could include seeking closer ties with the bloc than May’s deal envisages, or putting the Brexit deal to a public vote.
THE END OF MAY?
British politicians are divided over Brexit, but they agree that the process is in a mess _ and many blame May, who has refused to consider alternatives to her deal and failed to win changes to the agreement from the EU.
Many Conservatives are now calling for May to step down. Some pro-Brexit Tories who have so far opposed her deal say they would support it if she promised to hand over the next stage of negotiations – when Britain and the EU will hammer out their future relations – to a new leader.
For now, May is standing firm. Under Conservative rules, May cannot face a formal leadership challenge from within her own party until December because she survived one three months ago.
Opposition politicians think the only way forward is an early election that could rearrange Parliament and break the political deadlock. May has ruled that out, but could come to see it as her only option.
And anti-Brexit campaigners haven’t abandoned the idea of a new Brexit referendum on remaining in the EU. There’s currently no majority for that in Parliament, but pro-referendum campaigners feel opinion is shifting in their favour. Hundreds of thousands of people marched through London on Saturday to demand a new Brexit vote.
The “nuclear option” of simply cancelling Brexit is also gaining support. An online petition urging the government to revoke the decision to leave the EU has amassed more than 5 million signatures.