This could be the week that everything comes together on Brexit — or everything falls apart.
After months of refusing to cede barely any ground on her plans for leaving the European Union, UK Prime Minister Theresa May is likely to find control of Brexit is taken from her hands.
Amid talk of a Cabinet coup against her and hundreds of thousands of people marching to demand a second referendum — as well as a petition to cancel Brexit altogether reaching five million signatures — the Prime Minister would be forgiven for wanting to relinquish some control.
Lawmakers will vote Monday night on whether to come up with alternatives to the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, which has twice been defeated in the Commons. If this motion succeeds, they will take part in a series of so-called indicative votes on as many as seven options on Wednesday — including a second referendum and a hybrid of May’s existing deal that would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU.
Incredibly, while Brexit has dominated the British political agenda for months, Wednesday — two days before the original leave date of March 29 — will be the first opportunity Parliament has had to choose from a menu of alternative options to May’s widely-criticized deal.
There have been previous attempts to vote on a second referendum, but there has been no broad test of parliamentary opinion on a wider range of Brexit plans.
If any of the alternatives wins the support of a majority in the Commons, they would not be legally binding — they are, after all, only indicative votes.
However, given the Prime Minister’s weakened authority, she would be under pressure to accept the outcome to work towards a compromise solution.
On Sunday, UK Finance Minister Philip Hammond said a second referendum was a “coherent proposition” — in clear defiance of May’s stance. This doesn’t automatically mean a second referendum will win the support of a majority in the Commons, but Hammond’s words show the idea continues to gain momentum. And given a softer Brexit deal could potentially split May’s Conservative Party, another general election could be on the cards.
No-deal no go
Despite the attempts to find an alternative, May has not yet given up on her own plan.
Having been given more time by Brussels last week — up to May 22 if she can get her deal passed, or April 12 if it fails — she might still try to put forward her existing deal to lawmakers for a third time.
That is slated to take place Tuesday, but it could be pulled if there is no hope of success.
In a bid to win over more votes, the Prime Minister invited a group of Conservative Brexiteers to her Chequers weekend retreat yesterday, including Jacob Rees-Mogg and the former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
The small talk will have been thick with reports of a coup by Cabinet ministers — involving a plan for May to resign and handover to a “caretaker” premier, such as her deputy and fixer David Lidington, or the Environment Secretary Michael Gove. Both men yesterday strenuously denied wanting the role. What’s more, those Brexiteers visiting Chequers are wary of the plot in case it spells an even softer Brexit than the one they’ve been fighting.
On Monday, May will hold two meetings of her Cabinet — one political, which will involve issues relating to the Conservative Party, and could therefore prove a rallying point for the PM’s leadership, and one emergency government version, with officials in attendance.
Later this week, lawmakers will vote on whether to rubber-stamp the delay to Brexit agreed by May in Brussels last week, avoiding a no-deal exit for now. However, Conservative Brexiteer Members of Parliament who are increasingly alarmed that the UK could be headed for a softer Brexit are planning to stage yet another rebellion against the Prime Minister and vote against a delay.
Reports suggest that rebellion could involve more than 100 Tories. While it is still likely the delay will go ahead, as recent events have shown over and over again, nothing right now in British politics is certain.