UK parliament fails to find majority for any softer Brexit option

No proposal won a majority in the first round last week and MPs will vote again at 8pm (1900 GMT) today, while another day of debate is scheduled for Wednesday.

Tory Brexiteer Steve Baker, who resigned as a Brexit minister over the PM's handling of negotiations, wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that Mrs May's deal "cannot be allowed to go through at any cost".

Reports said she was readying herself for a fourth time to put her deal to MPs after they rejected it last Friday. The government could also pit May's deal against the favored indicative choice.

One of them includes a customs union with the EU, something May has always ruled out.

UK Conservative Party chairperson Brandon Lewis. Members of Parliament will vote on them at 8 p.m., with the results expected a couple of hours later. It allows continued participation in the single market and a "comprehensive customs arrangement" with the European Union after Brexit - including a "UK say" on future European Union trade deals - would remain in place until the agreement of a wider trade deal which guarantees frictionless movement of goods and an open border in Ireland.

The customs union allows businesses to move goods around the EU without checks or charges.

Brussels sources say that would be granted only if the prime minister points to a plausible alternative Brexit plan that could command the support of a stable majority in the Commons.

It would also leave up in the air the fate of 3.5 million Europeans living in Britain and as many as 1.5 million Britons living on the continental mainland.

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, right, and Keir Starmer, Labour Shadow Brexit secretary, leave European Union headquarters prior to an European Union summit in Brussels, Belgium, March 21, 2019.

A source said the idea of the contacts was not to interfere with United Kingdom politics but to gauge if there was support moving towards any of the alternatives, while highlighting that a no-deal Brexit is still possible.

She told Today: "There have been periods in our history when we have had national unity governments or a coalition for a very specific issue".

The analysts at MUFG said that while a no-deal Brexit on April 12 remained a risk for the pound, an emergency European Union summit on April 10 could - if British lawmakers cannot agree anything this week - see a long delay to Brexit.

The failure of the House of Commons to ratify a deal has only delayed Article 50 until April 12th, meaning there's just two weeks for a plan to be decided upon. Time is of the essence, we have got Brexit to deliver.

"No deal is the only way we're going to get out, fulfilling our manifesto pledges and the commitment we made to the British people after the referendum", he said.

If Parliament agrees on a way forward that May can't endorse, the prime minister may decide to trigger a general election. May has a poor track record when it comes to taking such political gambles, as Conservative MPs will recall that in 2017, she called a snap election in the hope of increasing her small majority, but instead she disastrously lost her majority entirely - a reality that has haunted her government in trying to pass Brexit policies in the House of Commons.

But Downing Street later said this was not an "inevitability".

This is why the government separated the withdrawal agreement from the political declaration - on the future relationship with the European Union - for Friday's vote.

None of the eight alternatives to Theresa May's deal were approved last week after parliament seized control of the Commons agenda.

Thousands gathered outside Parliament to protest against the delay, bringing traffic to a standstill.

Second referendum: This would put any deal to a public vote. She still hopes to secure backing for her thrice-defeated and highly contentious Brexit withdrawal deal that's anathema to a large group of hardline Conservative Brexiters and a Northern Irish party she relies on in her minority government.

  • Joey Payne