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The UK still can't agree on anything even after Theresa May promises to quit

The prime minister's offer was not enough to forge a deal on Brexit

by Paul Vale
Mar 28 2019, 1:23pm

British Prime Minister Theresa May promised to resign Wednesday should members of Parliament finally accept her Brexit deal to leave the European Union.

The martyrdom move from the beleaguered leader came amid another day of high drama in the House of Commons, as members of Parliament were given a series of “indicative votes” in order to identify which Brexit option has the clearest backing.

They voted — and yet Britain is still no clearer on how the country leaves the world’s largest trading bloc in just 15 days time.

What were they voting on?

Members of parliament were given eight options on what to do next. They included backing May’s deal, which had already been heavily defeated in two parliamentary votes; staying in a customs union with the EU; revoking Article 50, which triggered the entire Brexit process; or crashing out with no deal — an economically disastrous option that the Rand Corporation projects would erase 5 percent of Britain's GDP.

None of the options gained a majority.

Why did May offer to quit?

During a meeting with Conservative MPs before the vote, May promised she would quit as prime minister if they softened their opposition and backed her deal.

“I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations – and I won’t stand in the way of that,” May told MPs.

The move shifted some skeptical Tories into May’s camp, most notably former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who once described May’s deal as a “suicide vest” around the British constitution. He’s now on board, possibly with eyes on becoming the next PM should May step aside.

Why didn’t May’s sacrifice work?

Yet it still appears there are not enough votes to pass May’s deal, with the Democratic Unionists, a group of 10 MPs fiercely opposed to a part of the agreement that deals with the border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, refusing to budge.

Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP, explained that her Northern Irish party "cannot sign up" to the agreement because of concerns that the "backstop" provisions would see different economic rules governing Britain and Northern Ireland.

How did MPs vote?

The option that came closest to gaining a majority was for the UK to join a customs union with the EU, which would provide tariff-free trade between Britain and Europe after Brexit.

The opposition Labour Party’s plan, which called for a "close alignment" with Europe on trade, was also defeated. So was a no-deal exit, and a plan to revoke Article 50.

MP Sir Oliver Letwin, the mastermind behind giving MPs the indicative votes, described the lack of movement forward as "a very great disappointment."

So what happens next?

Rumors abound that May could try to get her deal through parliament again Friday — even though it’s likely to suffer a third defeat.

Beyond that, there’s no clear path forward. This increases the likelihood that Britain will crash out of the European Union on April 12 purely through indecision following a two-year process that has filled the country with rancor and division.

Adding to the confusion, May’s offer to quit now has MPs vying to position themselves as her successor.

Meanwhile, the EU looks on frustrated waiting for Britain to finally agree on a divorce agreement.

“It is now for the UK government to inform about how it sees the next steps,” said European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas. “We counted eight ‘noes’ last night, now we need a ‘yes’ on the way forward.”

Cover Image: Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Monday, March 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

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