Theresa May has lost authority over her own Parliament as MPs seized control of the Brexit process and three of her ministers resigned.
On another disastrous night for the PM, a majority of MPs agreed to hold a series of so-called ‘indicative votes’ on alternatives to Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement. It will give individual MPs a chance to have their say on a series of options to see if Parliament can agree on a way forward.
As well as losing the vote by 329-302, the PM suffered further embarrassment as three ministers quit in order to rebel against Mrs May’s instructions.
The move underlined to what extent May has lost authority over Parliament and her own party. The three ministers – Richard Harrington, Alistair Burt and Steve Brine – were among 30 Tory rebels who defied the Prime Minister and backed the amendment.
The result of Monday night’s vote makes the next few days and weeks even more unpredictable.
It certainly weakens Mrs May’s grip on power, with The Sun reporting on Monday night that she has indicated for the first time to hard-line Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson that she would consider resigning in exchange for them supporting her Brexit deal.
It also makes the prospect of a general election more likely with Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, an ardent Leaver, saying he had no intention of backing Mrs May’s deal, that he believed the PM should step down, and an election would probably take place in the summer.
Furthermore, it makes the likelihood of a ‘soft’ Brexit more likely, perhaps even the cancelling of Brexit altogether, depending on how the indicative votes takes place, which is set to be this Wednesday.
In his resignation letter, business minister Mr Harrington piled the pressure on the PM, saying her government’s approach to Brexit is “playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of people”.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said after the result: “Parliament takes control. An opportunity to build a cross-party cooperation leading to an enhanced political declaration & a closer future relationship! #Brexit”
Brexit: How an Article 50 extension would work. (PA)
Bad day at the office
It was another embarrassing day in the House of Commons for the prime minister. She had already had to stand up and admit there wasn’t enough support to bring her Withdrawal Agreement back for a third meaningful vote.
Although she insisted the “default outcome” to the current Withdrawal Agreement stalemate remained leaving without a deal, she has so far been unable to get a majority of MPs to back her deal.
She said: “It is with great regret that I have to conclude that as things stand there is still not sufficient support in the House to bring back the deal for a third meaningful vote.
“I continue to have discussions with colleagues across the House to build support so that we can bring the vote forward this week and guarantee Brexit.”
Jeremy Corbyn said the Government’s approach to Brexit has now become a “national embarrassment”.
“After two years of failure, broken promise after broken promise, the Prime Minister finally accepted the inevitable last week and voted to extend Article 50 and went to Brussels to negotiate.
“Last week’s summit represented another negotiating failure for the Prime Minister – her proposals were rejected and new terms were imposed on her.”
Mrs May’s speech in the Commons on Monday came as she was battling to stay in power, following reports of a cabinet coup in a bid to secure Brexit.
After Mrs May said she would not yet be putting her deal to a third vote, a number of MPs tweeted criticism of her.
Labour’s Steve Reed tweeted: “Humiliation for May as she admits there’s no majority for her useless Brexit deal. Her blinkered arrogance is responsible for the whole mess by refusing to engage across the House 2 years ago when she still had time.”
The Independent Group’s Sarah Wollaston, who defected from the Tories last month, tweeted: “Dismal statement from the PM. Instead of listening to the 14 men invited to Chequers & 10 members of DUP, better to listen to the million who dropped by her front door to ask her to #PutItToThePeople.”
And Eurosceptic Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns tweeted: “in the PMs statement she said that “Unless the house agrees to it, No Deal will not happen.” The PM is putting the responsibility solely on the commons, but it is in her gift to leave on the 29th with no-deal.”
Last week, the EU agreed to delay Britain’s original March 29 departure date because of the deadlock. Now, it will leave the EU on May 22 if May’s deal is approved by parliament this week. If not, it will have until April 12 to outline its plans.
European Council President Donald Tusk said last week that all Brexit options were still open for Britain until April 12, including a deal, a departure with no deal, a long extension – or even revoking Article 50 and remaining in the EU.
The ‘indicative vote’ explained:
– What is an indicative vote?
An indicative vote is an opportunity for MPs to vote on a series of options in a particular situation to establish whether any of them can command a majority in the House of Commons. As an expression of the House’s will, it is not necessarily binding on the Government.
– Who proposed it?
A cross-party group of MPs, led by Conservative former ministers Sir Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve and Labour’s Hilary Benn, are seeking to use a vote on Monday evening to seize control of the parliamentary agenda on Wednesday so a series of votes can be held then.
– Why does the Prime Minister oppose it?
Theresa May has warned that allowing Parliament to take control of the Commons agenda, which is normally determined by the Government, would set an “unwelcome” constitutional precedent. If MPs reject the Letwin plan, she has promised to provide Government time for a similar procedure led by ministers. But she said she is “sceptical” about the process and will not be bound by its outcome, which she warned could produce “contradictory outcomes or no outcome at all”.
– What might MPs vote on?
There is no list of options yet, but they could include the Prime Minister’s deal; no deal; a Canada-style free trade agreement; Labour’s plan for a customs union and close alignment with the single market; the so-called Common Market 2.0 proposals; a Norway-style close partnership with the EU; revoking Article 50 to maintain EU membership; or a referendum on any of these possible outcomes.