LONDON – None of the eight proposed options for resolving the impasse over Brexit was able to command a majority on Wednesday in the UK House of Commons.
A call to enter a customs union with the European Union fared the best, losing by 272-264, while members voted 295-268 against a motion requiring the eventual Withdrawal Agreement to be submitted to a referendum.
The option of revoking the United Kingdom’s Article 50 declaration that it intended to leave the bloc was defeated by 109 votes.
At the other end of the spectrum, 240 members opposed the idea of a no-deal Brexit.
The procedure adopted for the “indicative votes” on non-binding Brexit alternatives allows for a second ballot, possibly next Monday.
Prime Minister Theresa May still hopes that the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, will agree to hold a third vote – tentatively set for Friday – on the draft Withdrawal Agreement the government reached with the EU.
The House has twice rejected May’s deal and Bercow, citing a centuries-old rule, says that the same bill cannot be put to a vote multiple times during a single legislature, unless “substantial” changes are made to the text.
May told her Conservative Party colleagues – most of them opposed to the draft Withdrawal Agreement – earlier Wednesday that she would resign if they relented and approved her deal.
The Brexit secretary in May’s government, Steve Barclay, said that the outcome of Wednesday’s voting shows the prime minister’s deal is the “best option.”
While unable to reach consensus on the underlying substance, the House of Commons voted 441-105 in favor of making the necessary adjustment to UK legislation to accommodate the new Brexit timetable.
The original law mandated that the UK leave the European bloc on March 29, but May requested an extension from the EU and Brussels offered a delay to May 22 conditioned on Parliament’s finally accepting the Withdrawal Agreement.
If lawmakers reject the deal again, London has until April 12 to “indicate a way forward.”
With time running out, May played what looked like her final card on Wednesday with a pledge to party colleagues that if they backed her deal, she would step down and make way for a new prime minister to preside over negotiations with the EU on future relations between London and Brussels.
“I ask everyone in this room to back the deal so we can complete our historic duty – to deliver on the decision of the British people and leave the European Union with a smooth and orderly exit,” May said in a meeting with the Conservative Party’s 1922 Committee, according to a text released by her office.
“We’re nearly there. We’re almost ready to start a new chapter and build that brighter future. But before we can do that, we have to finish the job in hand,” the prime minister said.
May continued: “I know some people are worried that if you vote for the withdrawal agreement, I will take that as a mandate to rush on into phase two without the debate we need to have. I won’t – I hear what you are saying.”
“But we need to get the deal through and deliver Brexit,” the prime minister said nearly three years after Britons voted 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU.
Several leading Brexit hardliners in May’s party, including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, said they were prepared to reverse their earlier votes against her deal.
But the Northern Ireland-based Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up the minority Conservative government, remains opposed, saying that it would prefer to delay Brexit for a year to accepting the Withdrawal Agreement.
The DUP, and many Conservatives, oppose the provision of the Withdrawal Agreement known as the Irish backstop, aimed at averting the establishment of a hard border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
Critics of the backstop say it could trap the UK in a permanent customs union with the EU.