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House of Commons rejects all Brexit options — again

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LONDON — Just when you thought the House of Commons couldnt get more dysfunctional — it does.

On the night MPs were thought to be close to coalescing, at a second time of asking, around a Brexit compromise, they defied expectations to yet again reject all options on the table.

The result of the second round of so-called indicative votes means that with just 11 days until Brexit day, the country still has no plan to present to EU27 leaders next week that could form the basis of a further extension to the Article 50 negotiating period. The alternative is to leave with no deal, with all the economic disruption that entails.

On a night of high emotion in the Commons chamber, Speaker John Bercow captured the mood of uncertainty bordering on nervous anxiety.

“We have to await, as [former PM Harold] Macmillan used to say, events and see what transpires tomorrow … but I cant say with any confidence what will happen and in that respect, I think Im, frankly, not in a minority.”

Customs union vs. second referendum

Admittedly, the votes were close.

A proposal for the U.K. to pursue a customs union with the EU, backed by the opposition Labour Party, lost by just three votes — 276 to 273. It was rejected by most Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party, but also by some supporters of a second referendum.

Its sponsor, veteran Conservative MP Ken Clarke, hit out at those MPs on the anti-Brexit side of the argument who voted against it, begging “Peoples Vote” supporters to accept they would struggle to win a majority, and to compromise. “We cannot go on with everybody voting against every proposition,” he said.

But supporters of a second public vote will feel emboldened that a motion proposing a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal that passes the Commons lost out by just 12 votes (292 to 280). They will probably struggle to win more support though. Despite Labour whipping for the motion, 24 of its MPs refused to back it. The bulk of them are concerned about the response in their Leave-voting constituencies to an outcome that could lead to no Brexit at all.

A third motion, for a so-called Common Market 2.0 — leaving the U.K. in the single market and in a de-facto customs union — was rejected by 282 to 261 votes. Its chief architect MP Nick Boles resigned from the Conservative Party in the House of Commons chamber minutes after the vote.

“Ive given everything to an attempt to find a compromise that can take this country out of the European Union while maintaining our economic strength and our political cohesion,” he said, his voice heavy with emotion. “I accept I have failed. I have failed chiefly because my party refuses to compromise.”

Britains Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright arrives in Downing street, London for a Cabinet meeting on April 2, 2019 | Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images

Marathon Cabinet meeting

Now Theresa May steps back into the frame. Almost entirely absent Monday, the prime minister will chair a marathon Cabinet meeting Tuesday morning: three hours of political Cabinet with her ministers and a further two hours of normal Cabinet with civil servants present.

The next step is likely to be another attempt to pass the deal May negotiated with Brussels in November. But what the country should do if it fails again divides the Cabinet almost down the middle. Some lean toward the customs union compromise that so nearly won a majority Monday evening, while others want May to go for no deal. She faces resignations and a potential party split whichever way she turns. Many in Westminster therefore wonder if an election to break the deadlock in the Commons is inevitable.

“I cant help but feeling that things are moving in that way,” said one government official familiar with Cabinet discussions.

Following the inconclusive indicative votes, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay suggested the government could bring Mays deal back for a fourth attempt at ratification this week. He said that if a deal could be approved this week, there is still a chance that aRead More – Source

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