Brexit turmoil as MPs take control of process from Theresa May

house of commons brexit 0325 SCREENGRAB
Parliament votes to seize control of Brexit process
01:59 - Source: CNN

What we're covering here:

  • The day after: Lawmakers have set out how they will hold a series of indicative votes on alternative Brexit options. 
  • Parliament takes control: In an unprecedented move, Members of Parliament voted on Monday night to take over the parliamentary timetable from the government.
  • Brexiteer climbdown begins: Hardline, pro-Brexit MPs previously opposed to May’s deal are now considering backing it, after Monday’s vote raised the chances of a softer Brexit.
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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.

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.

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

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.”

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.

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.

Irish economy will be hit hard by Brexit, report warns

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. 

Who is Oliver Letwin?

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.”

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.

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.”

Third meaningful vote looking likely for Thursday

The Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, has taken Business Questions in Parliament.

Normally, this would be where Leadsom sets out the agenda for the House tomorrow. But she can’t do that - because yesterday’s unprecedented vote wrestled control of the order paper from the government.

A few interesting details did come out of the session, though.

The government will bring forward the “statutory instrument” debate tomorrow. This is the mechanism through which MPs will officially push back the date of Brexit.

But, as Theresa May did yesterday, she made clear that the date has already been changed in international law - so even if MPs voted against the change, it would have no impact on when Britain departs from the EU.

A third meaningful vote looks to be penciled in for Thursday. Tomorrow will be dedicated to indicative votes, and Parliament isn’t set to sit on Friday. That leaves Thursday as the last day a third meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal can take place.

This is crucial, because the EU Council specified when allowing May an extension to Brexit last week that a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement must take place by March 29. In other words, Parliament has to vote on the deal this week if it is to abide by the EU’s rules for an extension. May can’t pull it or push it back until next week.

It means Wednesday and Thursday could be very significant in the Brexit process.

May set to meet MPs tomorrow

Theresa May will meet the influential 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers tomorrow, three MPs with direct knowledge of the plan have confirmed to CNN.

The meeting, scheduled for 5 p.m. UK time (1 p.m. EST) comes as speculation continues to swirl around the Prime Minister’s future.

Reports over the past few days have suggested May is planning to set out the date for her resignation in return for support on her Brexit deal – and losing control of the Brexit process to Parliament last night has only highlighted her rapidly diminishing authority.

If May is planning such a move, tomorrow’s behind-closed-doors gathering with the 1922 Committee could be the time for her to do it.

The 1922 Committee represents rank-and-file Conservative Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. The group has the power to unseat the leader of their party through a motion of no confidence – but their last attempt to do so failed in December, and party rules mean May can’t be challenged again within 12 months.

Can Theresa May get her way?

Can May do it? Here’s a thought.

The Prime Minister lost the second so-called “meaningful vote” on her Brexit deal by a margin of 149 in mid-March. That means she needs to turn 75 MPs over if she’s to win a third vote on the deal by one.

Despite members of the hardline ERG reluctantly falling in line behind May, hardcore Brexiteers have to date been unpredictable – certainly not worth risking your legacy on. Also flaky are the softer Brexiteers, who favor a customs union or a Norway-style Brexit.

Here’s a theory as to how May could pull it off.

First, she needs to square off the hardliners. Luckily for May, ERG chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg this morning tweeted that the choice was now “Mrs May’s deal or no Brexit”. If May’s deal gets approved this week, then the UK officially leaves the EU on May 22 – no more talk of standing in European elections and delaying Brexit for years. 

Second, she needs to give softer Brexiteers a reason to back her. The indicative votes scheduled to take place in the Commons on Wednesday pave the way for a second public vote on the future relationship – or what kind of Brexit the UK wants. Options could include everything: no deal, a loose free trade agreement, a customs union, even rejoining the EU. The only option totally off the table would be Remain. 

Finally, she could offer something that nearly every MP wants: her head. May survived the confidence vote in her leadership by saying she would not lead the Conservative Party into another election. It did the trick. One thing that unites the Commons is that no one wants May at the helm for future relationship negotiations.

This might just be enough to drag her deal over the line. But the triangulation required on May’s part underscores just how divided the Commons is. And given that, after Brexit, a huge amount of legislation needs passing, it’s hard to see this deadlock going away in the longterm. And the traditional way of ending such an impasse would be dissolving Parliament and calling a general election.

General election "becoming more likely," MP says

A Brexiteer MP has suggested a snap general election is becoming increasingly likely as Britain’s Brexit deadlock drags on.

“A snap general election is becoming more likely. Whatever the outcome of the votes on Wednesday, the numbers inside the current remain-dominated House of Commons will not change,” Conservative lawmaker John Baron told the Press Association.

“It may be that an election is necessary to redress the balance in favour of MPs willing to implement the referendum result, for history suggests it is unwise for any Parliament to distance itself from the people. The events of the next few weeks will be critical,” he added.

If Baron’s prediction comes true, it would be the third time in four years that the British public is asked to go to the polls in a general election.

Theresa May called a disastrous snap vote in 2017, which led to her government losing its majority in the Commons.

These are the MPs flipping on May's deal

Five down, 70 to go.

Over the past 24 hours, a handful of Tory hardline Brexiteers have indicated their intention to reluctantly support Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Their movement will encourage Downing Street - but leaves them a long way away from the magic number of 75 MPs who are required to change their allegiance.

Here’s what the converted lawmakers have said on May’s deal.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: In a podcast that will be music to Theresa May’s ears, the hardline backbencher finally suggested he would support May’s plan to secure Brexit. “No deal is better than Mrs May’s deal, but Mrs May’s deal is better than not leaving at all,” he said.

Michael Fabricant: Fellow backbencher Fabricant told a meeting of the ERG, a Brexiteer grouping of Conservative MPs, that a new prime minister could re-negotiate a more “distanced” relationship from the EU after May’s deal passes.

Esther McVey: McVey quit as Work and Pensions Secretary in protest against May’s deal, and twice voted it down in the Commons. But now, she’s in favor. “What we should be doing is voting for her deal because it is your insurance policy to at least get out,” she told The House magazine on Monday.

James Gray: “This is the end of Brexit,” Gray told Sky News last week after House of Commons Speaker John Bercow ruled that May’s deal must be substantially changed before it could return to the Commons. He suggested he would switch from “no” to “yes” on May’s deal, asking fellow holdouts: “do they want to risk Brexit itself?”

Daniel Kawczynski: The backbencher tweeted on Monday night: “Am convinced that we need to vote for Withdrawal Agreement and move on to next round of negotiations. We want to secure Brexit before Remain Parliament impedes its progress any further.”

EU citizens' rights at risk after Brexit, say UK MPs

EU citizens living in the UK would be stripped of their freedom of movement, social security and housing rights under legislation designed to regulate immigration after Brexit, according to a UK parliamentary committee.

Despite repeated assurances from Theresa May that EU citizens in Britain would maintain the rights they are currently entitled to, the cross-party committee said in a report published on Monday that the legislation could leave people in a “precarious situation” and that it raises “significant human rights concerns.”

The committee claims that 3 million EU citizens will be left “in a rights limbo, subject to subsequent negotiation.”

“When it comes to rights, promising that everything will be worked out in the future is not good enough, it must be a guarantee, which is why the committee have reinserted rights guarantees back into the wording of the bill.”

European flags flutter in the wind in front of the EU institutions in Brussels on March 7, 2019. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)        (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

EU citizens' rights at risk after Brexit say UK MPs

Jacob Rees-Mogg hints he will support May's deal

Hardline Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg – the leader of the European Research Group, a bloc of Conservative MPs who have been staunchly opposed to May’s Brexit deal – has suggested he might vote for her plan after all.

“The choice seems to be Mrs May’s deal or no Brexit,” Rees-Mogg tweeted, alongside a link to his latest podcast for the ConservativeHome website.

On the podcast, Rees-Mogg explained his thinking.

Many Brexiteers had favored leaving the EU without a deal, if a satisfactory agreement could not be struck. But May had now ruled this out. “The Prime Minister will not deliver a no-deal Brexit,” he said. That left a a stark choice: May’s Withdrawal Agreement or no Brexit at all.

What this means: The opposition of Rees-Mogg and his fellow arch-Brexiteer MPs has been a crucial obstacle to May’s attempts at passing her deal.

But his support alone will not be enough to push it over the line. May would need more members of the ERG to join Rees-Mogg in voting for the deal. But the ERG doesn’t always operate as coherent bloc.

Crucially, May would still need to win over the DUP, the Northern Irish party that props up her minority government. DUP leaders have made their opposition to May’s deal clear on numerous occasions, and on Monday said nothing had changed despite the Prime Minister pleading for the group’s support.

May holding crucial cabinet meeting

British Attorney General Geoffrey Cox arrives for a Cabinet meeting earlier.

Ministers have arrived at 10 Downing Street for a crunch meeting of Theresa May’s cabinet.

The embattled prime minister will likely be laying out her next steps on Brexit, including when she will put forward her deal for a third vote in the Commons, and how she will be responding to tomorrow’s indicative votes.

One question May will likely be pressed to answer is whether she will allow her ministers free votes tomorrow – allowing them to vote for whichever plans they favor without fear of repercussions.

Failure to do so could risk more resignations from her ministers – but allowing them free votes might expose the deep divisions at the heart of government over Brexit.

Government won't commit to following indicative votes

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said the government can’t promise it will follow the course set out by Parliament tomorrow through its indicative votes.

“Clearly, it’s incumbent on the government to listen to what the Commons says,” Hancock told BBC Radio 4. “But we can’t pre-commit to following whatever they vote for, because they might vote for something that is completely impractical,” he added.

Hancock also noted Parliament’s repeated refusal to allow a no-deal Brexit, and urged MPs to support May’s deal if it is brought back for a third time.

“If anything, yesterday in the House of Commons demonstrated that the option of no deal simply won’t be allowed by the Commons. And the best way through this impasse is the one deal that has been negotiated with the EU that can be delivered quickly now.”

The papers react to Parliament's vote

Last night’s dramatic and virtually unprecedented vote in the House of Commons is dominating the front pages in Britain today.

“They’ve now stolen what’s left of Brexit,” reads the front page of the pro-Leave Daily Express tabloid, which argues that MPs are attempting to “thwart” the result of the referendum. The paper also raises the prospects of a general election to break the Brexit deadlock, as does the Daily Mail. “Is Britain plunging into yet another election?” reads their headline.

The Sun, which yesterday dedicated its front page to an editorial urging Theresa May to resign, now thinks it may have gotten its wish. “Back me and sack me,” its rather blunt headline reads, nodding to speculation that May may be willing to stand aside in return for support for her Brexit plan.

The Times, Telegraph and Guardian are all more muted, focusing on the Commons “taking control” of the process.

And The Metro, a free newspaper read by commuters, employs a serviceable pun in an attempt to sum up May’s perilous position. “Stuck in the muddle with EU,” its headline reads.

May clings to power as UK Parliament seizes control

Theresa May has suffered many rebellions and humiliations over the last few months, but on Monday night she sustained what could be the blow that finishes off her premiership – when she finally lost control of Brexit to parliament.

The question the prime minister now faces is: What does she do to win it back?

Her actions over coming days will decide whether she succeeds in taking back control, as well as shape the future of the UK.

While May was severely weakened this week, she retains some power over the process going forward.

It is she who has the power to travel back to Brussels for further talks with EU leaders, and it is she who can decide whether the indicative votes Wednesday evening are just that, indicative rather than binding.

On Monday, the government issued a statement condemning Parliament’s approval of indicative votes, warning that it sets a “dangerous, unpredictable precedent for the future.”

Yet it would be politically and morally damaging to her reputation if she completely ignored the will of parliament at this late stage in the Brexit process, having largely dismissed the views of lawmakers up until now.

Read more analysis from Jane Merrick here.

What happened last night?

Gd morning from London.

British lawmakers grabbed control of the Brexit process from Theresa May last night, in an rare move that puts parliament on the front foot and deals yet another blow to the prime minister’s diminishing authority.

MPs defied the government to vote 329 to 302 in favor of an amendment, proposed by Conservative MP Oliver Letwin, giving them control of parliament’s agenda on Wednesday, clearing the way for a series of indicative votes on alternative Brexit strategies.

Those votes could find a majority for another form of Brexit, more than two years after Brits voted by a small majority to leave the EU and just two days before the country was initially scheduled to depart on March 29.

Meanwhile, May’s own deal is not quite dead – she could still bring it back for a third “meaningful vote” in parliament this week, if she feels it’s earned enough support. Yesterday, she said it hadn’t – but the prospect of a softer Brexit could scare hardliners in her party into supporting her twice-defeated bill.

May’s own position is far from secure, with several of her rivals said to be plotting to force her out.

And in case you’ve lost track – Britain is currently still set to crash out of the EU with no deal by default in 17 days, on April 12, unless May’s deal gets passed.