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Parliament Votes Down Brexit Alternatives, Worsening Deadlock

Category: Europe,World

LONDON — Britain’s Parliament on Monday failed to reach a majority on any one of four new proposals for the country’s exit from the European Union, worsening the disarray over Brexit less than two weeks before the deadline to depart.

The votes on Monday were part of a remarkable power grab by lawmakers, frustrated by Prime Minister Theresa May’s failure to forge consensus around Brexit, as the process of extricating Britain from the European Union is known, and alarmed that the country could face a disorderly, economically damaging departure without any kind of deal by the deadline of April 12.

In the votes, which were nonbinding, lawmakers considered four plans. The failure to agree on any of them means Britain is facing the deadline with nothing resolved and all the options remaining on the table.

It also underscores the stalemate in Parliament where different factions appear unable to compromise enough to swing behind any one vision for Brexit.

Something will have to give soon, however. By April 10, Mrs. May needs to get a Brexit agreement through Parliament or ask the leaders of the European Union for a longer delay if she wants to avoid leaving without a deal.

The plan that lost most narrowly was for a customs union that would keep Britain in the same tariff system as the rest of the European Union countries, tying the country closely to the bloc. It failed 276-273.

Mrs. May’s own plan would be a starker separation. It would keep Britain in the European Union customs and trading system until at least the end of 2020, but eventually would have the country leave the customs union and single market, and assert control over immigration from continental Europe.

Mrs. May will hold a cabinet meeting on Tuesday to discuss the next steps. She is likely to seek another vote to pass her plan later this week — possibly on Wednesday — if the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, permits it.

But Parliament has rejected her plan three times — resoundingly. And Mr. Bercow has already warned Mrs. May against bringing back a proposition that has been rejected.

Parliament is expected to debate Brexit again on Wednesday, and it remained unclear whether lawmakers would continue to try to again wrest control from Mrs. May, and make another effort to garner support for any other alternative.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party said that “the margin of defeat for one of the options tonight was very narrow indeed and the prime minister’s deal has been rejected by very large majorities on three occasions.”

“If it is good enough for the prime minister to have three chances at her deal then I suggest that possibly the House should have a chance to consider again the options that we had before us today, in a debate on Wednesday, so that the House can succeed where the prime minister has failed.”

After Monday’s votes, a lawmaker who tried to forge one of the compromise plans, Nick Boles, said he was resigning from the Conservative Party, because, he said, it “has shown itself to be incapable of compromise.”

Mr. Boles said he would remain in Parliament as an independent.

If Mrs. May’s plan does not get another vote, she could try to pursue an exit without any agreement. But that would split her cabinet, and some members might resign. Also, Parliament has indicated that it does not support an exit without a deal.

Mrs. May could ask the European Union for another delay but then she would have to agree that Britain take part in European elections, which she has said would be wrong given the 2016 referendum vote by Britons to leave the bloc.

The other alternative would be to press for a general election. But that would raise the question of who would lead her Conservative Party, given that Mrs. May is widely unpopular and an ineffective campaigner. She promised last week to step aside as prime minister if pro-Brexit Tory lawmakers supported her deal.

Mrs. May’s cabinet is now at war, a fact conceded by Julian Smith, the chief whip and responsible for winning votes in Parliament, who told the BBC that Brexit had produced the “worst example of ill-discipline in cabinet in British political history.”

Around 170 Conservative lawmakers have signed a letter to the prime minister insisting that Britain should leave the European Union on April 12, with or without an agreement.

Still, Mrs. May’s thrice-rejected deal is not dead yet.

Last week she managed to win over some pro-Brexit supporters, like the former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who supported her plan on Friday despite having criticized it for months, calling it a straitjacket, among other things.

But a group of pro-Brexit hard-liners, who call themselves the “Spartans,” have not been reconciled and still hope to leave the European Union without an agreement.

One of their leaders, Steve Baker, on Monday said that the option of voting down his own government in a confidence motion was “coming onto the table,” if all else fails on Brexit.

Mrs. May is still hoping to win over 10 lawmakers from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which normally supports the government but opposes Mrs. May’s Brexit deal.

The D.U.P. worries that provisions to keep open the Irish border could mean that Northern Ireland has to obey more European Union rules than the rest of the United Kingdom, effectively changing its constitutional status.

On Monday one D.U.P. lawmaker, Sammy Wilson, said Mrs. May could bring her deal back to Parliament “a thousand times,” and his party would still vote against it.

The other plans that Parliament considered on Monday were: one to keep Britain in both the customs union and Europe’s single market; another to put any Brexit plan to a referendum; and the option of canceling Brexit altogether if nothing is agreed by April 12.

The plan for the customs union and single market failed 282-261; the plan for a second referendum failed 292-280; the plan for canceling Brexit with no agreement failed 292-191.

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