Britain was no nearer to resolving the chaos surrounding its departure from the European Union after parliament failed on Monday to find a majority of its own for any alternative to Prime Minister Theresa May’s divorce deal.
After a tumultuous week in which May’s divorce strategy was rejected by lawmakers for a third time, despite her offer to quit if it passed, the future direction of Brexit remains mired in confusion.
In a bid to break the impasse, lawmakers on Monday voted on four last-minute alternative Brexit options for what is the United Kingdom’s most far-reaching policy change since World War Two. All were defeated.
The option that came closest to getting a majority was a proposal to keep Britain in a customs union with the EU, which was defeated by three votes.
A proposal for a confirmatory referendum on any deal got the most votes, but was defeated by 292-280.
Brexit minister Steven Barclay said after the results were announced that the default position was still that Britain would leave the EU on April 12 without a deal, the nightmare scenario for many international businesses.
“The only option is to find a way through which allows the UK to leave with a deal,” Barclay told parliament.
He hinted that May could put her deal to a fourth vote this week in the hope of securing an orderly exit before European elections are held from May 23 onwards.
“If the house were to agree a deal this week, it would still be possible to avoid holding European parliamentary elections,” Barclay said.
Sterling fell almost 1 percent to $1.3048, after the vote results were read out by the speaker, John Bercow, to stand around 0.5 percent lower on the day.
Last Friday, the third defeat of May’s own withdrawal agreement left one of the weakest British leaders in a generation facing a spiraling crisis over Brexit.
Her government and her Conservative Party, which has been trying to contain a schism over Europe for 30 years, are now riven between those who are demanding that May pilot a decisive break with the bloc and those demanding that she rule out such an outcome.
If May were to throw her weight behind either camp, she would risk tearing her party apart and bringing down the government. Some Conservative lawmakers have warned they will support a motion of no confidence if she accepts calls for a Brexit that maintains many of the existing close economic ties with the EU.
Britain had been due to leave the EU on March 29 but the political deadlock in London forced May to ask the bloc for a delay. As things stand, Britain will now depart at 2200 GMT on April 12 – unless May comes up with another viable option.
(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge, Elizabeth Piper and Michael Holden; Editing by Kevin Liffey)