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As MPs can't agree what to do about Brexit, EU warns 'our patience is running out'

The House of Commons is set to vote on a number of options today.

British Prime Minister Theresa May
British Prime Minister Theresa May
Image: House of Commons/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated Apr 1st 2019, 8:47 AM

BRITISH MPS WILL vote on a number of Brexit options today in a bid to find a path forward after rejecting Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal for a third time last Friday.

Finding a consensus has proved impossible to date – last Wednesday MPs rejected eight options put to them in a series of indicative votes.

The proposals with the most support were a UK-wide customs union with the EU and a second referendum.

House Speaker John Bercow is set to choose which motions MPs will vote on – fewer options are likely to be put before the House of Commons in a bid to make progress.

The eight possible options are as follows:

  • a unilateral right to exit the backstop
  • leaving with no deal in the absence of a withdrawal agreement
  • a UK-wide customs union with the EU
  • a confirmatory public vote on whatever MPs decide 
  • a public vote to prevent a no-deal scenario 
  • parliamentary supremacy (if the EU does not grant a further extension, MPs would be asked to vote between a no-deal Brexit or revoking Article 50)
  • joining the European Free Trade Association and the European Economic Area

The debate is expected to begin at around 2.30pm, with voting taking place at 8pm.

MPs are also set to discuss an online petition calling for Article 50 to be revoked, and Brexit effectively cancelled, which has received over six million signatures to date. 

After failing to back the Withdrawal Agreement, Britain must now put forward an alternative plan, which could include asking for a longer extension, before 12 April or face leaving the European Union without a deal.

An extraordinary EU summit is set to be held on 10 April.

In a failed attempt to win over more support, May offered her own resignation if MPs backed her deal. Her future still hangs in the balance, with many people suggesting a general election is needed to break the impasse.

If a delay beyond 22 May is secured, Britain could have to take part in the European Parliament elections.

Running out of patience 

Frustration is growing within the EU, with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker yesterday telling an Italian TV station that the EU is running out of patience with Britain.

“With our British friends we have had a lot of patience, but even patience is running out,” Juncker told Italian public TV channel Rai 1.

Up to now, we know what the British parliament says no to, but we do not know what it says yes to.

However, there appears to be momentum behind a plan to seek a deal that would see Britain stay in some kind of customs union with the EU.

While this may satisfy the pro-EU members of May’s Cabinet, it threatens mass rebellion among the rest of her ministers, posing a serious threat to the government’s survival.

Brexit-supporting minister Andrea Leadsom has organised a letter signed by 10 Cabinet members demanding that there be no further extension beyond 22 May, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

The letter also spells out that May must stand by her party’s manifesto pledge to leave the customs union in order to be able to strike post-Brexit trade deals with other countries.

General election threat

Agreeing to seek a customs union, if demanded by MPs, could therefore trigger a mass ministerial walkout.

However, ignoring MPs’ instructions could result in the same scenario; some pro-EU ministers have already quit and vote against the government.

All of which leaves a general election looking ever more likely, with May last week stating: “I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House.”

Conservative MPs across the board said they would block such a move, which requires two-thirds support in parliament.

Party support has slipped by 7% to 36%, according an opinion poll in the Sunday Mail, putting Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour (41%) on course to be the largest party if an election is held.

Tory deputy chairman James Cleverly yesterday said the party was not preparing for a snap election.

“I don’t think an election would solve anything. Time is of the essence, we have got Brexit to deliver. We don’t want to add any more unnecessary delay,” he told Sophy Ridge on Sky News.

The poll also found narrow support for a second referendum.

Contains reporting from © AFP 2019  

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Órla Ryan

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