MPs have again failed to agree on proposals for the next steps in the Brexit process.
The Commons voted on four alternatives to Theresa May’s withdrawal deal, but none gained a majority. One Tory MP resigned the whip in frustration.
Mrs May will now hold a crucial cabinet meeting to decide what to do and whether to put her deal to MPs again.
The UK has until 12 April to either seek a longer extension from the EU or decide to leave without a deal.
The so-called indicative votes on Monday night were not legally binding, so the government would not have been forced to adopt the proposals. But they had been billed as the moment when Parliament might finally compromise.
Mrs May’s plan for the UK’s departure has been rejected by MPs three times.
As a result of that failure, she was forced to ask the EU to agree to postpone Brexit from the original date of 29 March.
Meanwhile, Parliament took control of the process away from the government in order to hold a series of votes designed to find an alternative way forward.
Last week, eight options were put to MPs, but none was able to command a majority, and on Monday night, a whittled down four were rejected too. They were:
- Motion C: Committing the government to negotiating “a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU” as part of any Brexit deal.
- Motion D: Referred to as Common Market 2.0, this option would mean joining the European Free Trade Association and European Economic Area.
- Motion E: Calling for a confirmatory referendum, giving the public a vote to approve any Brexit deal passed by Parliament before it can be implemented.
- Motion G: Aiming to prevent the UK leaving without a deal, including a vote on whether to revoke Article 50 – stopping Brexit altogether – if the EU does not agree to an extension.
Those pushing for a customs union argued that their option was defeated by the narrowest margin, only three votes.
It would see the UK remain in the same system of tariffs – taxes – on goods as the rest of the EU – potentially simplifying the issue of the Northern Ireland border,but preventing the UK from striking independent trade deals with other countries.
Those in favour of another EU referendum pointed out that the motion calling for that option received the most votes in favour, totalling 280.
Following the failure of his own motion, Common Market 2.0, Conservative former minister Nick Boles resigned from the party.
The MP for Grantham and Stamford said he could “no longer sit for this party”, adding: “I have done everything I can to find a compromise.”
As he left the Commons, MPs were heard shouting, “don’t go Nick”, while some MPs from other parties applauded him.
He later tweeted that he would remain an MP and sit in the Commons as “an Independent Progressive Conservative”.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said the “only option” left now was to find a way forward that allows the UK to leave the EU with a deal – and the only deal available was the prime minister’s.
If that could be done this week, he added, the UK could avoid having to take part in elections to the European Parliament in May.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock agreed it was time for Mrs May’s deal to be passed.
But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that while it was “disappointing” that none of the proposals secured a majority, he said he wanted to remind the Commons that Mrs May’s deal had been “overwhelmingly rejected”.
He urged MPs to hold a third round of indicative votes on Wednesday in the hope that a majority could yet be found for a way forward.
For months, Parliament has been saying “Let us have a say, let us find the way forward,” but in the end they couldn’t quite do it. Parliament doesn’t know what it wants and we still have lots of different tribes and factions who aren’t willing to make peace.
That means that by the day, two things are becoming more likely. One, leaving the EU without a deal. And two, a general election, because we’re at an impasse.
One person who doesn’t think that would be a good idea is former foreign secretary and Brexiteer Boris Johnson.
He told me going to the polls would “solve nothing” and would “just infuriate people”. He also said that only somebody who “really believes in Brexit” should be in charge once Theresa May steps down. I wonder who that could be…
Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb told BBC Look East he was “ashamed to be a member of this Parliament” and hit out at MPs in his own party – five of whom voted against a customs union and four of whom voted against Common Market 2.0.
He said the Commons was “playing with fire and will unleash dark forces unless we learn to compromise”.
But prominent Brexiteer Steve Baker said he was “glad the House of Commons has concluded nothing”.
He said the prime minister must now go back to the EU and persuade them to rewrite the withdrawal deal – something they have so far refused to do – otherwise the choice was between no deal or no Brexit.
Senior figures in the EU, though, showed their frustration at the latest moves in Westminster.
European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt tweeted that by voting down all the options, a “hard Brexit becomes nearly inevitable”.
BBC Europe editor Kayta Adler said the mood in Brussels was one of disbelief – that the UK still does not seem to know what it wants.
She said EU leaders were also questioning the logic of arguing over things like a customs union or Common Market option at this stage, because right now, the UK has only three options as they see it – no deal, no Brexit or Theresa May’s deal – and anything else is a matter for future talks once the UK has actually left.
- Tuesday 2 April: Five-hour cabinet meeting from 0900 BST
- Wednesday 3 April: Potentially another round of indicative votes
- Thursday 4 April: Theresa May could bring her withdrawal deal back before MPs for a fourth vote
- Wednesday 10 April: Emergency summit of EU leaders to consider any UK request for further extension
- Friday 12 April: Brexit day, if UK does not seek/EU does not grant further delay
- 23-26 May: European Parliamentary elections