MPs reject all four alternatives to Theresa May’s Brexit plan
Nick Boles announced he will no longer sit as a Conservative MP after seeing his ‘Common Market 2.0’ proposal defeated.
MPs have rejected all four alternatives to Theresa May’s EU withdrawal deal after Parliament took control of the Brexit process for the second time in the space of a week.
A proposal from Europhile Tory grandee Kenneth Clarke for a customs union arrangement with the EU was rejected by only three votes, while a demand for a second referendum was defeated by 12 and a Norway-style deal put forward by Nick Boles by 21.
Mr Boles immediately declared that he would no longer sit as a Conservative MP, blaming the party for refusing to compromise on a means of leaving the European Union.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay told MPs that the default outcome was now a no-deal Brexit on April 12, but said it was still possible to leave with a deal – and avoid holding European Parliament elections in May – if the Commons approves an agreement this week.
Cabinet will meet on Tuesday for five hours to thrash out a way forward.
Mr Barclay told MPs: “This House has continuously rejected leaving without a deal, just as it has rejected not leaving at all.
“Therefore the only option is to find a way through which allows the UK to leave with a deal. The Government continues to believe that the best course to take is to do so as soon as possible.”
SNP MP Joanna Cherry’s proposal to give MPs the power to block a no-deal Brexit by voting to revoke Article 50 was rejected by a margin of 101 votes.
After a debate disrupted by semi-naked climate change protesters in the public gallery, a highly unusual “indicative votes” procedure was used in an attempt to establish what outcome might have majority support among MPs.
It was the second time in a week that Parliament had taken over the Brexit process, after votes on eight alternative plans last week failed to produce a majority.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was “disappointing” that no Brexit solution had secured a majority, but the margin on the Clarke motion was “very narrow indeed” compared with three “overwhelming” defeats for the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement.
Mr Corbyn called for the same options to be put forward again on Wednesday in a bid to “succeed where the Prime Minister has failed in presenting a credible economic relationship with Europe for the future that prevents us crashing out with no deal”.
MPs have control of proceedings in the Commons on Wednesday, but Speaker John Bercow said it was not yet clear what debates and votes will be staged. Conservative former minister Sir Oliver Letwin is expected to set out his proposals on Tuesday.
The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said it would be an “outrage” if Mrs May’s deal was presented to MPs again, while Green MP Caroline Lucas said the PM’s Withdrawal Agreement was “dead”.
Some 25 Labour MPs rebelled against their party whip to vote against the Boles plan, tabled under the banner Common Market 2.0. Just 33 Conservatives backed the plan, which would keep the UK in the single market with a “comprehensive customs arrangement” with the EU after Brexit.
Fifteen Conservative MPs and 203 from Labour – including Mr Corbyn – were among the 280 who voted in favour of a confirmatory referendum for any Brexit deal agreed in the Commons, but they were outnumbered by the 292 voting against, who included 24 Labour MPs.
Mr Clarke’s customs union plan won 273 votes, including 37 Conservatives. The 276 votes against included the vast majority of Tory MPs and 10 from Labour.
Conservatives had been given a free vote, but Cabinet ministers abstained. Labour whipped its MPs to back all of the motions, except Dr Cherry’s plan for a vote to halt Brexit rather than allow a no-deal outcome.
Despite seeing her deal defeated for a third time last week, the Prime Minister is determined to bring it back to the Commons again in a final roll of the dice before the EU deadline of April 12.
Her hopes were dealt a blow as the Democratic Unionist Party reconfirmed its opposition to a Withdrawal Agreement which was rejected by 230 votes in January, 149 in March and 58 last week.
Conservative backbencher Richard Drax apologised in Parliament for “making the wrong call” when he switched to back the PM on Friday. The South Dorset MP said Mrs May must resign if she cannot deliver Brexit.
Mrs May was coming under intense pressure from Brexit-backing ministers and MPs to resist any outcome which would see the UK remain in a customs union, preventing it from striking new trade deals elsewhere in the world.
A letter to the Prime Minister signed by 170 Tory MPs demanded Britain leave by May 22 at the latest “with or without a deal”.