- Theresa May could pull a planned third vote on her Brexit deal because she is likely to lose it, Downing Street has confirmed.
- Downing Street could delay a third meaningful vote, which had been scheduled for Tuesday, until after a key summit of European Union leaders on Thursday.
- The prime minister could then ask EU leaders for a long Article 50 extension and threaten Conservative MPs with a choice between a significant Brexit delay or backing her deal.
LONDON – Theresa May could scrap plans to hold a vote on her Brexit deal this week, a move which would set up a dramatic showdown with her pro-Leave colleagues as European leaders decide whether to let the United Kingdom delay its departure.
Downing Street confirmed on Monday that there are currently no plans to hold a vote on Tuesday.
“We would want to believe that we had a realistic prospect of being successful in that vote,” said a spokesperson for the prime minister.
Chancellor Philip Hammond said on Sunday that a fresh vote on the deal, which had been scheduled for Tuesday evening, would only happen if the UK government was “confident” it could win the vote and Trade Secretary Liam Fox said there would be “no point” having the vote if there was no chance of winning.
So what is Downing Street’s strategy?
The prime minister had previously given opponents of her deal a choice: Back her deal by March 20 or face a much lengthier extension of the Article 50 process than the three-month delay currently on the table.
But Brexiteers have not fallen into line.
The Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May’s government, is still refusing to back the deal amid concerns over the Irish backstop. Even if the DUP does drop its opposition to the deal, it would probably not bring enough Conservative MPs on board for May to secure a majority, partly because leading Brexiteers have so far stood firm.
Pulling Tuesday’s vote would force May to head to an EU leaders’ summit and ask for a long delay to Brexit. Some EU leaders favour a delay of up to two years. This means the prime minister could return to Westminster with firm evidence that MPs had a binary choice between backing her deal and remaining in the EU for at least another year.
A Downing Street spokesman confirmed on Monday that May would request a lengthy Article 50 extension if her deal has not been ratified by parliament on Wednesday or earlier.
“If we are unable to win a meaningful this week, the prime minister will have to seek a longer extension which will involve taking part in European elections,” said a spokesperson for the prime minister.
A no-deal Brexit is still technically possible. It is indeed the default legal setting should the prime minister fail to secure any extension at all, but parliament’s opposition to such an outcome has reduced its likelihood significantly.
The question is whether May’s strategy will work. Many of the most ardent opponents to the prime minister’s deal say it is worse than remaining in the EU and leading Brexiteers have shown no signs of deciding to back it.
The former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a bellwether for the more hardline Eurosceptic wing of the Tory party, used his Telegraph newspaper column on Monday to urge colleagues to maintain their opposition to the deal.
The government will announce by 1900 GMT on Monday whether it will hold a meaningful vote on Tuesday.
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