In a series of votes Thursday, members of parliament [MPs] voted to instruct May to go back to the EU to request a new Brexit deadline. The British government wants to extend the current deadline for three months if May’s hated Brexit deal is approved by March 29. If she can’t get that through parliament, there could be a much longer delay.
Britain can’t decide to extend the Brexit deadline by itself, however. That will require the approval of each member state of the EU which is by no means guaranteed unless May can give them good reason to allow her more time for to work on a deal many consider to be dead.
If British lawmakers don’t approve May’s deal by March 29, and an extension isn’t approved by the EU, then the country is still set to crash out of the bloc without a deal in 15 days.
Earlier in the day, the government revealed it intended to hold a third vote on May’s deal some time next week. If it completes a trilogy of defeats, MPs will then get to vote on a range of options to indicate exactly how they want to proceed without May’s deal and without leaving with no deal. However, changing course would cause a much longer Brexit delay which the government warned could cause “real damage to the public's faith” in politics.
A British government minister told The Daily Beast that the prime minister will now begin what amounts to a bribery campaign in which she’ll throw money at members of parliament for their pet projects to win their backing for her deal by the end of the new propsed deadline. “I suspect the big HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] chequebook is about to be dusted off and promissory notes to fall like confetti,” said the minister
The government also hopes the threat of a much longer delay will force the hand of the anti-EU MPs who voted against her deal—believing it would keep the U.K. too closely entwined with Europe—and bring them into line in a potentially-decisive third vote to make sure Brexit happens.
A spokesman for the European Commission reiterated that a deadline extension would require the “unanimous agreement” of all its member states, and each leader will have to “consider such a request, giving priority to the need to ensure the functioning of the EU institutions and taking into account the reasons for and duration of a possible extension.”
A separate vote Thursday saw lawmakers overwhelmingly reject the idea of a second referendum on independence. Although it wasn’t a legally-binding vote and doesn’t completely rule out the prospect of another referendum, the number of lawmakers who voted against it indicate it is unlikely to win a majority at any time in the near future.
MPs also rejected the chance to wrestle the Brexit process away from the prime minister by turning down a measure which would have given them control of parliamentary time next week to arrange a series of votes on alternative brexit options. That measure—rejected by just two votes—would have allowed MPs to find a way forward on Brexit without May’s deal.
That means MPs have this week voted against May’s deal, against leaving the EU with no deal, against holding a second referendum, and against using their power to find an alternative route to get Britain out of the Brexit stalemate it finds itself in.
The decision to delay Brexit came after a week of humiliation for the prime minister—a feeling she must be used to by now. Lawmakers rejected her deal for a second time on Tuesday night in a defeat which was only marginally better than in January when it suffered the worst defeat in parliamentary history. Then, on Wednesday, lawmakers voted against the U.K. ever leaving the EU without a deal. Although that vote wasn’t legally binding, it was another crushing government defeat which some of her own ministers decided to abstain on.
May’s misery wasn’t helped by Donald Trump on Thursday when he said he was “surprised at how badly it has all gone from a standpoint of negotiations” and criticized the prime minister because she didn't listen to his advice on Brexit, commenting: “It could have been negotiated in a different manner.” May revealed in July last year that Trump told her, in typical Trump fashion, the best way forward would be to sue the EU.
Asked if he thinks the Brexit deadline should be extended, Trump said: “I think they are probably going to have to do something, because right now they are in the midst of a very short period of time, at the end of the month and they are not going to be able to do that.”
However, the president warned against a second referendum on Britain’s EU membership, saying it would be “unfair to people who have won.”