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U.K. Brexit Crisis Deepens as Commons Fails to Find Plan B

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(Bloomberg) — The U.K.’s deadlocked Parliament failed to agree on a new blueprint for Brexit, rejecting all the options that were put forward to replace Theresa May’s unpopular deal.

The House of Commons voted on four different policies but none of them won a majority, pushing Britain’s messy divorce from the European Union deeper into crisis. The pound fell.

With just 11 days left until the U.K. is due to exit the bloc of 28 nations, the stalemate leaves the prime minister with a crucial decision over what to do next. Her own deal has been rejected three times in parliamentary votes but she is considering trying again.

May will convene a meeting of her Cabinet on Tuesday, likely to last five hours, to hash out a plan.

If she can’t get her withdrawal agreement through Parliament before a summit of EU leaders on April 10, she will face a perilous set of options. She could seek a long delay to Brexit, which would enrage many euro-skeptics and could provoke resignations; she could call for a general election or even a new referendum and let voters decide; or she could try to force the U.K. out of the EU with no deal, although Parliament would try to stop this.

Walk Out

In a dramatic sign of how high tensions are running, one of the authors of a motion that was rejected resigned from the Conservative Party in the chamber.

“I have given everything to an attempt to find a compromise that can take this country out of the European Union while maintaining our economic strength and our political cohesion,” Conservative Nick Boles told the Commons after the results were read out. “I accept I have failed. I have failed chiefly because my party refuses to compromise.”

Members of Parliament will have another chance to take over the Brexit agenda on Wednesday. A proposal to stay in the EU’s trading regime known as the customs union was rejected by just three votes. It could still prevail in another ballot on Wednesday, though Conservative opposition to the proposal is strong.

Speculation has been mounting that May will call a general election as the only way out of the impasse. May’s decision to call an unusually long Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, including a political session, further fueled expectations that Britain might be heading for its second election in as many years.

But Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay indicated the government’s immediate plan was to have one more go at getting May’s unpopular deal approved.

“This House has continuously rejected leaving without a deal just as it has rejected not leaving at all,” Barclay said. “Therefore the only option is to find a way through which allows the U.K. to leave with a deal.”

The minister said if Parliament were to back an agreement later this week, it would be possible to avoid a long extension to EU membership, and being forced to take part in European Parliament elections next month. Pro-Brexit Tories would regard as a betrayal of the 2016 referendum result.

“The House has voted in favor of nothing. As a result in 11 days time, the U.K. will leave the EU without an agreement unless the prime minister acts,” said Labour member of Parliament Hilary Benn.

While Parliament came close to a majority to stay in the customs union, the breakdown of votes shows an overwhelming majority of Conservative members of parliament reject keeping closer ties with the bloc. That makes it almost impossible for May to pursue a softer stance.

Just 37 Tories voted for the customs union plan, compared with 236 against, and 33 Tories backed the plan to stay in the single market, with 228 against. Support for a second referendum also came close in Parliament overall, but just 15 Tories voted for it.

(Adds Steve Barclay comments.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Tim Ross in London at tross54@bloomberg.net;Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson at fjackson@bloomberg.net, Emma Ross-Thomas, Thomas Penny

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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