Today in Brexit is a daily feature that will attempt to keep track of the chaotic mess playing out in the U.K. If you’re just tuning in, here’s a brief explainer on what you’ve been missing.
With the original March 29 deadline for Britain exiting the European Union having come and gone, the Brexit debate enters a new phase this week—one where, incredibly, the outcome is even less predictable than it had been before, and the rules under which all this is being conducted seem even more arbitrary. Also, today there was nudity.
Today’s votes: After having rejected Theresa May’s negotiated withdrawal agreement for a third time last week, Parliament held four “indicative votes” on potential paths forward. These are non-binding motions meant to get a sense of whether there’s any Brexit scenario that could possibly win the support of a majority of Parliament. Last Wednesday, indicative votes were held on eight different Brexit models. None of them passed, although the one that lost by the closest margin was a Labour Party plan to keep Britain in a customs union with Europe—a much “softer” Brexit than those advocated by hard-line Brexiteers. Since then, the likelihood of a customs union arrangement seems to be growing.
Today, House Speaker John Bercow allowed votes on four Brexit options: One would keep Britain in a customs union with the EU. One was a version of what’s been called Common Market 2.0 or Norway Plus, keeping Britain in a looser free trade area with Europe. One required a public vote for whatever Brexit model is eventually chosen. One would automatically revoke Brexit entirely if the only other choice is a “no-deal” Brexit.
You will not be shocked to learn that all of these failed, though the customs union failed by only four votes this time.
Nick Boles, sponsor of the Common Market 2.0 motion, dramatically resigned on the spot from the Conservative Party, citing the inability of pro-Brexit hard-liners to compromise.
In a letter released before the votes, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said that if the customs union or a similar plan was not approved, the party would “keep all options on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.”
Supporters of a “People’s Vote” projected a message on the outside of Parliament demanding a new referendum, “whatever they decide” in the House of Commons. In retrospect, this was putting a bit too much faith in their elected leaders.
Today in Theresa May: Ever a glutton for punishment, May might still bring her little-loved withdrawal agreement back for a fourth vote later this week, perhaps against whichever idea got the most support today. So Parliament may get to choose between two ideas they’ve already rejected.
It’s also possible that a new election could be called to break this impasse, though Conservatives are wary about risking handing over power to Corbyn. The most cosmically fitting outcome at this point would be for voters to reelect exactly the same government.
Today in extensions: If there’s no deal in place by April 12, the new Brexit deadline (extended from March 29), the EU may grant the U.K. a longer extension to figure out a path forward. This would mean that Britain would likely have to elect representatives to the European Parliament in elections scheduled this May, despite the fact that it decided to leave the EU three years ago and still plans to, any day now. As the Washington Post’s Adam Taylor notes, these would ironically be the most closely watched EU elections held in Britain in years.
Today’s sideshow: Earlier in the day, debate in the House of Commons was interrupted by climate change protesters from the group Extinction Rebellion, who stripped off most of their clothes in the public gallery. Some of them glued themselves to the protective glass and had to be removed by police using a special spray:
One of the protesters told the Guardian that they had stripped to highlight the “vulnerability that all of us share in the face of environmental and societal breakdown.” Some of the protesters, though, kept their trousers on. Addressing climate change in the coming years will require unprecedented political action on all levels and I fear we’re not going to make it with that level of commitment. Still, it’s certainly valid to point out that Brexit has sucked up an enormous amount of political capital and attention that could be redirected toward far more urgent issues.
Days left until next deadline: 11
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