British lawmakers on Monday voted to wrest control of the Brexit process to try to find a majority for an alternative way forward that would break the parliamentary deadlock.
The government fiercely opposed the House of Commons vote on Monday night to take control, warning it would set a dangerous constitutional precedent. The government traditionally runs business in the House of Commons, deciding when and what debates and votes occur.
“[It] would overturn the balance of our democratic institutions,” Prime Minister Theresa May said.
Another Conservative called it a “constitutional revolution” that the House of Commons “will come to regret”.
However the May government lost a vote to oppose the Commons takeover by 27 votes, after 30 Conservatives including three ministers defied the party whip.
After the vote Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said “where this government failed this House must, and I believe will succeed”.
He also suggested any decision reached on Wednesday might go back to the people for a “confirmatory vote”.
Before the vote May conceded that she did not have enough support to get her Brexit divorce deal over the line, though she hopes for another “meaningful vote” on the deal later this week. It is still opposed by the Northern Irish DUP and members of the hardline pro-Brexit wing of the Conservatives.
May said the “default outcome” in the absence of a vote for her deal was for the UK to leave the European Union with no deal at the new April 12 deadline set by the EU last week.
But “unless this House agrees to it, No Deal will not happen”, May said.
“The alternative is to pursue a different form of Brexit or a second referendum.”
May tried to keep control of parliament by promising her own “indicative votes” later this week which the government would guide, to identify such an alternative.
May said she was “sceptical about such a process”.
“When we have tried this kind of thing in the past, it has produced contradictory outcomes or no outcome at all,” she said.
The 30 Conservative defectors who defied the party whip to vote for the motion included three ministers, who resigned in order to do so.
Business Minister Richard Harrington said the government’s approach to Brexit was “playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of people in this country”.
He said he resigned so he could do everything possible to prevent a no-deal Brexit which, he said was being championed by “a small minority of the Conservative Party and a small minority of the country”.
“The failure to secure a deal and to rule out a hard Brexit is resulting in cancelled investment decisions, business being placed abroad and a sense of ridicule for British business across the world,” he said.
The government also lost a health minister and foreign office minister.
Reacting to the vote, a spokesman for the Department for Exiting the EU said it “sets a dangerous and unpredictable precedent for the future”.
Earlier, May had refused to commit the government to delivering the outcome of any such series of votes.
“No government could give a blank cheque to commit to an outcome without knowing what it is,” she said, as the result could be “unnegotiable” with the European Union.
[May’s] statement will represent the most shameful surrender by a British leader since Singapore in 1942.
Conservative Crispin Blunt
Labour Brexit spokesman Kier Starmer also avoided committing his party to supporting any parliamentary consensus that emerged, saying that, for example, Labour would oppose a “no-deal” Brexit in any vote.
However if one of the options on Wednesday emerges with a clear majority, the government could be powerless to oppose it without calling an election.
The process for the vote, and the options to be considered, will be decided on the day. Tory elder statesman Ken Clarke suggested a “single transferable vote”, which would work like Australia’s preferential voting system to identify the option with the most support.
A core group of pro-Brexit MPs believe a no-deal Brexit is the best result.
Conservative Crispin Blunt told May that “taking No Deal off the table just put the final torpedo into her own deal and any real prospect of Brexit. Her statement will represent the most shameful surrender by a British leader since Singapore in 1942.”
At Monday’s Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street a supposed “coup” widely tipped in the Sunday newspapers failed to materialise.
The Sunday Times had reported half May’s Cabinet would demand she resign. But according to reports nobody even mentioned her future during the meeting.