Brexit turmoil as MPs take control of process from Theresa May

By Rob Picheta, CNN
0934 GMT (1734 HKT) March 27, 2019
3:18 p.m. ET, March 26, 2019

We'll be back tomorrow

We're wrapping up out live coverage from London. Here's our latest story on today's developments.

Wednesday promises to be a hugely significant day in the Brexit process, as lawmakers hold a series of indicative votes on what kind of Brexit they want to see. We'll be back to make sense of it all.

1:59 p.m. ET, March 26, 2019

Government responds to Article 50 petition

A petition calling on the government to revoke Article 50 and cancel the Brexit process altogether has been signed nearly 6 million times.

It's broken records for parliament's official petitions site, and gained further traction thanks to Saturday's march through London, demanding a second referendum.

And now, the government has released its official response: No.

"This Government will not revoke Article 50. We will honour the result of the 2016 referendum and work with Parliament to deliver a deal that ensures we leave the European Union,” its statement said.

The petition will still get a debate in Parliament - its website says petitions need 100,000 signatures to be considered for discussion.

2:00 p.m. ET, March 26, 2019

DUP could help May's deal over the line, MP suggests

Theresa May is set to spring a surprise and win the third meaningful vote on her Brexit deal, according to one Conservative MP.

"I don't think she will (lose). I think she's going to get this across the line," Andrew Murrison, who has twice supported the deal in the Commons, told CNN.

Murrison was optimistic that the DUP's 10 MPs will flip towards May's deal, despite the vocal opposition of its Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson earlier today. "My friends in the DUP, I hope ultimately, once they have the reassurances they need in full measure - I hope they support this deal," Murrison said.

"If they do, I think a large number on my side will come across," he added, also predicting that some Labour MPs would also flip if there were a movement towards the bill.

The prediction is a brave one, considering that May needs to turn 75 MPs towards her historically-unpopular plan.

Murrison said he was skeptical of the indicative votes process taking place tomorrow, and rejected the idea of revoking Article 50. "We had a referendum," he said. "That's how we decide things. We don't respond to petitions or marches."

2:27 p.m. ET, March 26, 2019

This is how the indicative votes on Brexit will work

Hilary Benn, the Labour MP who chairs Parliament's Brexit committee, has tweeted out the Business of the House motion, setting out how the indicative votes will take place.

It makes for fairly dense reading. But the biggest takeaway is that, if this business motion is approved, Parliament will take control of the legislative timetable on two day: Monday April 1, as well as Wednesday March 27.

Here's how it will work:

  • According to the plan laid out in the business motion, Speaker John Bercow will select a range of Brexit alternatives to be debated Wednesday. At 7 p.m. local time, lawmakers will vote on the options simultaneously.
  • At 7.30 p.m., the government will put forward legislation that would write into UK law the Brexit delay agreed by the EU last week. Lawmakers will debate that for 90 minutes, before voting on it.
  • Before the end of proceedings, which would be sometime after 9 p.m., the Speaker will announce the results of the indicative votes held earlier.
  • On Monday, votes will be held on Brexit options in a sequence chosen by the Speaker – who will, by that time, have a good idea about the relative popularity of the different options. In effect, this is a knockout stage.

1:20 p.m. ET, March 26, 2019

May should not resign, says minister who quit last night

Alistair Burt, who resigned as a Foreign Office minister in order to vote against Theresa May’s government on Monday, told CNN on Tuesday she should not resign, despite failing twice to pass her Withdrawal Agreement.

“Changing leaders at this time would not be helpful,” said Burt, a member of May’s Conservative Party who supported the motion to hold indicative votes on Wednesday.

"Of course you regret" resigning, Burt added. "But occasionally there are higher principles that you've got to stick to."

"We will miss our colleagues hugely, but we want to see this government succeed. We want to see this arrangement of leaving, but leaving well, succeed," Burt noted. He said that a clear Brexit strategy emerging would be a good "Easter present" for the country.

1:07 p.m. ET, March 26, 2019

Irish economy will be hit hard by Brexit, report warns

From CNN’s Lauren Kent in London

Brexit will hurt Ireland's economy whether or not Britain leaves the EU with a deal – and up to 80,000 Irish jobs could be at risk in the event of a no-deal split, economists say.

Ireland's Department of Finance has released an economic forecast estimating the impacts of three different Brexit scenarios on Ireland’s economy: deal, no-deal and disorderly no-deal.

The latter scenario could cause 3.4% drop in employment and 5% lower economic output over the next decade, it says.

Even with a deal, Ireland estimates employment would be 1.8% lower than without Brexit, equating to 41,000 fewer jobs, and estimates a 2.6% drop in GDP over the next 10 years. 

Economists also predict a drop in real wages, and additional disruptions to trade in the short-term, especially if there is a “disorderly Brexit” if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal. 

“There is also evidence to show that Ireland could be relatively more negatively affected than other EU countries, because of the openness of the economy and the fact that the UK is its closest economic partner,” the report states. 

10:57 a.m. ET, March 26, 2019

Who is Oliver Letwin?

From CNN's Sheena McKenzie

The drama of last night's vote in UK Parliament and the prospect of indicative votes tomorrow has thrust Oliver Letwin, the architect of the plan, into the spotlight.

Letwin is far from a household name -- but tomorrow, he will take control of the order paper in Parliament away from the government for the first time in living memory. So who is he?

Letwin is the Conservative MP for West Dorset, and voted Remain in the 2016 referendum. He is a veteran parliamentarian and known as something of a political fixer. He was an aide to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and was a government minister under David Cameron.

Under Cameron's premiership, he helped maintain the relationship with the Conservatives' then coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats. He wrote the party's 2010 election manifesto -- its program for government.

The HuffPost website on Tuesday said that Letwin had found himself cast in the unlikely role of leading a parliamentary rebellion because he feared May was leading the UK towards a no-deal Brexit, which he felt would be catastrophic.

"As he pointed out himself, he had never voted once against his party in 22 years, until the past few weeks," wrote HuffPost's Paul Waugh. "But just after Christmas, he realized with terror for the first time that the PM could indeed oversee a no-deal exit, either by accident or design."

10:56 a.m. ET, March 26, 2019

DUP indicates preference for year-long extension rather than May's deal

Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party have dealt another possible blow to Prime Minister Theresa May's hopes of passing her Brexit deal.

Sammy Wilson, the party's Brexit spokesman, has written that a one-year extension is preferable to May's plan -- potentially dashing the possibility of the 10 DUP MPs pushing the agreement over the line this week.

"First of all let us be clear: the Withdrawal Agreement itself means no Brexit," Wilson writes in The Telegraph. "It ensures that the EU has the legal power to prevent us ever leaving except on their draconian terms, which would include a Customs Union and adherence to EU regulations."

He also sends a message to Conservative MPs such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, who have indicated they will support May's deal to secure Brexit. "To them I say that, if the deal goes through, we have lost our right to leave the EU. If we sign up to it, we give away our right to leave to the whim and dictates of the EU. That is not Brexit."

A year-long delay is "a better strategy than volunteering to be locked into the prison of the withdrawal deal with the cell door key in the pocket of Michel Barnier," he added, referencing the EU's chief negotiator.

What this means: May has attempted to flip the DUP, which props up her minority government, to support her deal for months. To date, they have not budged -- and Wilson's column makes clear that they still won't help her pass her plan.

That means that even if May can convince all of her hardline Conservative backbenchers to fall in line -- an extremely tall and unlikely order -- she may still not have the numbers to pass her Brexit plan this week.

10:19 a.m. ET, March 26, 2019

Leadsom hints Easter recess will be cancelled

The leader of the Commons also suggested lawmakers will lose their Easter vacation to Brexit.

The break is set for April 4 and will run until April 23 - but that period will be crucial, especially if May's third meaningful vote fails and the UK is forced to set out a new Brexit strategy by April 12.

"I have announced the dates for Easter recess but as is always the case recess dates are announced subject to the progress of business," Leadsom said.

"We will need time in the House either to find a way forward or to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and I think the country will rightly expect Parliament to be working flat out in either scenario, so further announcements on future recess dates will be announced in due course in the usual way."