Brexit

Brexit alternatives to be voted on as Theresa May faces calls to step down

Key Points
  • British lawmakers are to start voting on alternative options in the Brexit process as they try to take control of the U.K.'s departure from the EU.
  • Members of Parliament (MPs) will vote Wednesday evening on what their preferred courses of action are when it comes to Brexit. The options MPs are expected to vote on include the U.K. remaining in a customs union with the EU, a possible second referendum, revoking Article 50 (the process that set the U.K.'s departure from the EU in motion) or a no-deal exit.
Steve Bray, a political activist, shouts anti-Brexit slogans through a megaphone near the Houses of Parliament in London, U.K., on Tuesday, March 12, 2019.
Chris J. Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

British lawmakers are to start voting on alternative options in the Brexit process as they try to take control of the U.K.'s departure from the EU.

Members of Parliament (MPs) will vote Wednesday evening on what their preferred courses of action are when it comes to Brexit. The options MPs are expected to vote on include the U.K. remaining in a customs union with the EU, a possible second referendum, revoking Article 50 (the process that set the U.K.'s departure from the EU in motion) or a no-deal exit.

The votes, known as indicative votes, will be held after debates on the options. The votes are non-binding but they will indicate what path has the most support from politicians across all the parties in the House of Commons (the lower house of Britain's Parliament). The process could carry on into next week with lawmakers narrowing down the options.

Faced with the prospect of MPs taking over, there has been speculation that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May could set out her own departure date from government in a last-ditch bid to get backbench MPs to support her own twice-defeated deal. May is due to meet backbenchers (those that aren't part of her government but are part of her party) on Wednesday evening ahead of the votes.

Divided as ever

The U.K.'s Parliament, rather like the British public, has been divided by Brexit into those who support remaining in the EU and those that support leaving, with many in between favoring varying degrees of closeness (or distance) from the EU when (and if) Britain does leave the bloc.

The indicative votes come after MPs voted Monday to take control of the Brexit agenda in Parliament. May's government could still ignore the results of the votes on Wednesday, however.

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Think tank chief: Brexit could fragment the UK political system

They are intended to break a deadlock between the U.K. government and Parliament. May's Brexit deal with the EU has already been voted down by lawmakers twice, with many MPs (mainly Brexiteers and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party) disliking the Irish "backstop" part of the deal — which is aimed at preventing a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Bronwen Maddox, director of the think tank Institute for Government, told CNBC Wednesday that pro-EU MPs were hopeful of a change of direction.

"I think it's emboldened some of the MPs who are leaning towards remain and hoping for a second referendum and to keep in play those options … And it's certainly reinvigorated the Europeans who are watching this very closely," she told CNBC's Willem Marx in London.

Whatever the outcome of Brexit, Maddox said, the divisions within British politics showed that the political system was broken.

"Both Conservatives and Labour have big divisions in them and that's not just about Brexit, it's really about completely different views on how to govern the country and what Britiain is in the future. And those big rifts would be there even if you magically took away the Brexit issue," she said.

'Sordid' politics

There is talk though that Brexiteers within Parliament could be coming round to supporting May's deal if a third vote is held in the face of alternatives — including the possibility of no Brexit at all.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, a prominent and influential Brexiteer, said Tuesday that having re-considered May's deal (which he had previously rejected) he considered it better than the other potential outcomes for Brexit. Writing in the Daily Mail newspaper Tuesday, he said he would now support May's deal the Democratic Unionist Party supported it (it too had previously rejected it).

Robin Bew, the managing director of the Economist Intelligence Unit, told CNBC Wednesday that it still looks as if "not enough other hardcore Brexiteers will move to get her deal over the line."

"Essentially, what it shows is that up to this point it's not been about the deal it's all been about politics and Theresa May and holding the (Conservative) party together. And it's not really been about holding the country together and the right thing to do," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" Wednesday.

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UK lawmakers agree to hold Brexit option votes Wednesday

"If they vote for it now, having rejected it twice, that would tell you something pretty poor about the state of politics in the U.K. I don't think they will vote for it ... I don't think you'll get this deal over the line and there are still too many people who are holding out."

"The whole thing looks pretty sordid now," Bew added. He believed MPs would favor a softer Brexit in their indicative votes on Wednesday evening.

Earlier this month, U.K. lawmakers voted against leaving the EU without a deal and May was forced to request an extension to the U.K.'s departure date. Now, Britain has until May 22 to leave the bloc if politicians agree to May's deal, or April 12 if it does not. If it wants to stay longer it will have to participate in European parliamentary elections on May 26.

European Council President Donald Tusk appealed to the European Parliament to consider granting the U.K. a "long extension" – if it requested it.

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