British lawmakers vote on Monday for a second time to try to find alternatives to Theresa May’s Brexit deal, and the outcome could push the prime minister to seek closer ties with the European Union than she has mapped out.
It isn’t clear that the votes will help steer a way out of the Brexit cul-de-sac. Mrs. May’s deal to extract the U.K. from the EU was rejected by lawmakers for a third time last week.
There is no guarantee that lawmakers will coalesce around an alternative plan tonight, nor is it clear that Mrs. May would accept the outcome of the nonbinding votes and change her deal. The government on Monday continued to play down radical fallbacks, including calling a fresh election or a second Brexit referendum.
Mrs. May is expected to discuss the outcome of Monday’s votes during a lengthy cabinet meeting Tuesday morning. A series of further parliamentary votes are expected this week ahead of a special Brexit summit of EU leaders on April 10.
Currently, the U.K. is on course to leave the EU without a deal on April 12. EU leaders have asked for a clear alternative plan if they are to grant a further postponement of Brexit beyond that date.
Last week lawmakers held so-called indicative votes on eight different Brexit scenarios but none gained a majority. The process Monday will see four options put to a vote, with results expected around 5 p.m. EDT.
Of the options on the table, the most likely to gain a majority is to keep the U.K. in the EU’s customs union after Brexit. That would reduce the obstacles to post-Brexit trade between the EU and U.K., alleviating some of the economic disruption businesses fear, but it would restrict the U.K.’s ability to strike its own trade deals.
Another plan, backed by the opposition Labour Party, is for the U.K. to remain part of the EU’s single market and the customs union. However, that would allow the continued free movement of EU citizens into the U.K., potentially alienating the many British voters who opted to leave the EU to better control immigration.
Senior EU officials have said a way could be found to give the U.K. “a voice but not a veto” in the EU’s customs union, but both options would mean the U.K. would have to accept EU rules with limited power to shape them.
Another option that will be voted on Monday is whether a Brexit deal should be put to a referendum to get the public’s approval. That could result in Brexit being reversed altogether.
A fourth proposition under consideration would clear the way for the U.K. to cancel Brexit to stop the country from leaving the EU without a deal.
The result of tonight’s vote is likely to deepen cracks within Mrs. May’s Conservative Party. If she moves toward any option that keeps the U.K. inside the EU’s economic orbit after Brexit, she will likely face a deeper rebellion from a kernel of strongly anti-EU lawmakers in her own party.
Steve Baker, a Conservative lawmaker, hinted Monday that he might be willing to vote to bring down his own government rather than swallow one of the softer forms of Brexit. “The reality is that people are trying to avoid leaving the European Union,” he told the British Broadcasting Corp.
Mrs. May, meanwhile, is firmly against a customs union or the continuation of free movement of migrants from the EU.
Monday’s vote-off could end in a grand finale later in the week in which Mrs. May’s deal would face off against the winner of Monday’s indicative votes. Her spokesman said the government would only put her deal to a fourth vote if it had a chance of winning. Conservative euroskeptics and her political allies, the Democratic Unionist Party, continue to refuse to endorse it.
Her aides expect Parliament would block any attempts to crash out of the EU without a deal come April 12.
Over the weekend Mrs. May was warned by senior lawmakers that triggering an election could be disastrous for the Conservatives, as they fear the Labour Party would come to power. Mrs. May has repeatedly vowed not to call a second Brexit referendum, arguing that the outcome of the June 23, 2016, referendum to leave the bloc should be honored.
There are signs that the U.K. government is preparing for the case that the U.K. has to stay in the EU for the medium term. Mrs. May has vowed to quit the bloc before European Parliament elections on May 23. On Monday, however, the government said it would reimburse the costs of holding the election, allowing officials to prepare for the poll.