Theresa May, U.K. prime minister, right, and Stephen Barclay, U.K. exiting the European Union (EU) secretary, left, depart from 10 Downing Street in London. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Parliament Will Take Its Time to Find a Plan B: Brexit Update

(Bloomberg) --

Brexit hardliner Jacob Rees-Mogg indicated he’s willing to back Theresa May’s deal, a move that could be a game-changer for the prime minister if others follow suit. It’s now a race between May, who is still fighting to get her deal through, and members of Parliament who have seized control of the agenda and could force the government to seek a softer divorce.

Key Developments:

  • May to address influential 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs on Wednesday, according to party officials
  • Parliament will vote on alternatives to May’s Brexit deal Wednesday
  • Focus on Conservative MP Oliver Letwin, who will lead cross-party process to decide which options to debate; he told the Evening Standard it will take time for a consensus to emerge
  • U.K. official says government is considering Thursday for Parliament to vote on Brexit deal, but only if it sees a chance of winning
  • Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg says May’s deal “better than not leaving at all” if it comes down to that choice; Pound rises

May Will Address Tory MPs on Wednesday (4:50 p.m.)

Theresa May will face her own Conservative members of Parliament at a meeting of the 1922 Committee on Wednesday, according to party officials. Many of these politicians want her to use the meeting to announce a date when she will quit as prime minister.

Letwin: Plan B Will Take Time to Emerge (3 p.m.)

Oliver Letwin, the architect of last night’s parliamentary power grab, said the process for finalizing a plan will probably take more than one round of voting.

“The really hard bit comes next,” he told the Evening Standard newspaper. “There’s little chance that the House of Commons will produce a majority for an alternative way forward in just one vote.

“But we have to use this process tomorrow and on Monday to try to work towards a consensus that can carry a majority. That won’t be an easy task. But we owe it to the country to try,” he said.

Third Vote on Deal Could be This Week: Leadsom (1:35 p.m.)

Theresa May could still seek a third vote on her Brexit deal in the House of Commons this week, Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom told the chamber on Tuesday. The government’s view remains that the agreement is the “best compromise for leaving the European union whilst keeping a close economic and security partnership,” Leadsom said.

“She will continue to have discussions with colleagues across the house to seek to build support for her deal so that we can if possible this week approve the deal and guarantee Brexit,” she said.

Lawmakers will also be given a 90-minute debate and a vote on Wednesday to change domestic law to reflect the changes to the Brexit timetable that are already enshrined in international law, Leadsom said. The new dates are April 12 if May can’t get her deal approved and May 22 if she can, but needs more time to pass domestic legislation.

Leadsom hinted that the Easter recess, scheduled for April 4-23, may be cut if work still needs to be done to make progress on Brexit. “The country will rightly expect Parliament to be working flat out,” she said.

May Is Said to Eye Thursday for Vote on Deal (1:15 p.m.)

Theresa May’s government has penciled in Thursday for a possible vote on her divorce deal with the EU, according to an official familiar with the prime minister’s thinking.

While it is unlikely because ministers say they won’t put the deal back to the House of Commons until they are confident of winning, the government has been encouraged by signs of movement among some hardline Brexiteers after last night’s defeat for the government, the official said.

The alternatives to May’s deal that could be on the table as a result of Parliament votes on Wednesday on different options will focus minds, the official said.

Government Still Pushing to Get Deal Through (1 p.m.)

Theresa May’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters the government still regards the deal negotiated with the EU as the “best available,” and Cabinet had a long discussion about building support for it this morning.

Asked about DUP MP Sammy Wilson’s comment (see 11:30 a.m.) that there were no current talks with the government, Slack said discussions with political parties are “continuing.” He also said, though, that he’s not aware of any discussions between the prime minister and Tory MP Oliver Letwin.

Slack also reiterated that the government wouldn’t put the deal to Parliament for another vote unless it thought there was a realistic chance of winning.

How Wednesday Votes Will Work (12:50 p.m.)

The plan for tomorrow is shaping up to be quite simple, according to a member of Parliament involved in the process familiar with Oliver Letwin’s thinking.

MPs will be able to put forward different models of Brexit for debate, with the speaker deciding which ones proceed. At the end of the day, each option would be on a separate ballot paper and members could choose to support as many as they liked.

This would be the first stage in seeing how many options could command wide support. Then on a later day, the options would be whittled down.

DUP’s Wilson: Party Won’t Back May’s Deal (11:30 a.m.)

Just as one door seems to be opening for May, another is slammed shut. Sammy Wilson, Brexit spokesman for the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, said his party, which props up the government, won’t be backing the prime minister’s divorce deal. The agreement “means no Brexit and the breakup of the United Kingdom,” he said in an interview.

The comment reflects what Wilson said in Parliament on Monday, that far from warming toward May’s deal as the EU-imposed deadline draws near, the DUP’s stance seems to be hardening. He accused May of using Northern Ireland as an “excuse” and adopting “scare tactics” to get her deal through.

As a partner in May’s minority government, the DUP’s position is obviously critical. But there’s another problem for May: Some pro-Brexit Tory MPs have said they’ll only vote for her deal if the DUP does too.

More Brexiteers to Follow Rees-Mogg? (10:45 a.m.)

Conservative MP Michael Fabricant said on Twitter he agrees with Jacob Rees-Mogg, calling May’s deal the ‘least worst option.’

Rees-Mogg: May’s Deal ‘Better Than Not Leaving’ (10:15 a.m.)

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the pro-Brexit European Research Group caucus, indicated he’d be willing to back Theresa May’s Brexit deal if it came down to a choice between doing that and not leaving the European Union.

“I’ve always thought that no deal is better than Mrs. May’s deal, but that Mrs. May’s deal is better than not leaving at all,” Rees-Mogg said on the Moggcast podcast, which was recorded on Monday -- before Parliament voted to take control of the Brexit process -- and released on Tuesday.

“I’m concerned that her deal is in no way a good deal,” he said. “Against that there are the threats of a long delay, and many people in Parliament who want to frustrate the result of the referendum. So we are in a very difficult political situation.”


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