With days to Brexit deadline, EU keeps options open

Debate intensifies over likely extension request, but EU27 still holding out hope for Brexit treaty ratification.

Just 10 days to go, but Brussels is keeping all Brexit options open.

EU leaders will gather for a summit in Brussels on Thursday at which the 27 (initially without Theresa May) will discuss a likely request for an extension of the U.K.’s March 29 Brexit deadline.

An intense debate is already underway in Brussels and in European capitals over the relative merits, drawbacks and risks of either a relatively short extension — lasting perhaps until July 1 — or a longer extension of potentially a year or more.

But with the U.K. prime minister having yet to make a formal request for a delay, let alone expressing any particular preference for a long or short extension, EU officials and diplomats said there is little they could do but await further clarity.

It’s hardly an unfamiliar position.

“I think that a long extension — I have said it to ministers — must be linked to something new, a new event, a new political process” — Michel Barnier

As the watching and waiting continued, EU officials said their paramount goals are to avoid a potentially catastrophic no-deal departure by the U.K. and to safeguard the functioning of EU institutions by trying to limit the potential complications an extension would pose for the European Parliament election in May. They are also adamant the 585-page Withdrawal Agreement will not be renegotiated.

Much, they said, would depend on May’s request, which is expected to arrive Wednesday in the form of a letter from London. But even that request may offer little certainty. Some officials said Britain could potentially request both a short and long extension depending on how circumstances unfold — a short, technical delay if the U.K. parliament ratifies the Brexit deal before March 29; or a longer extension if it does not.

The uncertainty hung like a dark cloud over the European Council on Tuesday as ministers met for a General Affairs council meeting. Nathalie Loiseau, the French European affairs minister, said the 27 were certain to grant a short extension if the withdrawal  treaty is ratified and the U.K. just needs time.

“A short extension in order to conclude the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, of course that would be granted,” Loiseau said. “But we don’t even know whether it will be ratified, that is up to the British MPs to decide.” But Loiseau said an extension without justification would be a hard sell.

EU officials have insisted that any request by London for an extension must be justified with clear reasons for the delay.

“We need something new,” Loiseau said. “Because if it is an extension to remain in the same deadlock where we are now, how do we get out of it?”

Michael Roth, the German minister for Europe, said patience was running low. “We are really exhausted by these negotiations and I expect clear and precise proposals by the British government, why such an extension is necessary,” Roth said.

That point was reiterated on Tuesday by the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, at a news conference after he briefed EU ministers in Brussels.

Barnier said that a request for a longer extension must come with “a new political process” in Britain. He did not specify what that means, but among the EU27 it is generally understood to involve a new national election, a second referendum or both.

British Prime Minister Theresa May | Jack Taylor/Getty Images

“I think that a long extension — I have said it to ministers — must be linked to something new, a new event, a new political process,” Barnier said.

EU officials have long expressed frustration that May, despite successfully brokering the Withdrawal Agreement and accompanying Political Declaration, has failed to generate any national consensus in the U.K. in support of the deal.

Among the more influential EU27 countries, officials said Germany favors more flexibility in granting an extension, provided there is justification from London, while France has taken a harder line, seeing little prospect of British political dynamics changing anytime soon.

Officials said there is also debate among the EU27 about when to make a decision on an extension. Several countries are pushing for the bloc to delay giving Britain an answer until much closer to the March 29 deadline, allowing as much time as possible for May to stage another vote in the House of Commons and persuade MPs to change their minds.

The chances of such a vote seemed to dwindle on Monday after the speaker, John Bercow, said another vote could not be held without substantial changes to the proposal. But the government is investigating ways to overcome the obstacle set by Bercow and hold another vote.

The Commons has already rejected the Brexit deal twice by massive majorities, and any large shift in votes is expected only if May can persuade the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland to come round to supporting it. That would bring most Brexiteers on her own backbenches into line. But even then, she is likely to need several votes from opposition Labour MPs.

Barnier, at his news conference, also suggested there is still room for at least cosmetic adjustments that could help win ratification of the treaty in London. He reiterated the EU’s offer that the Political Declaration, which sets out the framework for upcoming talks on the U.K.’s future relationship with the EU, “could be made more ambitious in the coming days if a majority in the House of Commons so wishes.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn | Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Barnier’s emphasis on the Political Declaration was a gift to political forces in the House of Commons seeking a majority around an alternative, softer Brexit.

Even as he spoke, the foundations of just such a potential majority were being laid.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who wants a permanent customs union with the EU and close, lasting alignment with single market rules, met with Conservative MPs Nick Boles and Oliver Letwin, and other members of a cross-party group of backbenchers seeking what they call “Common Market 2.0,” keeping the U.K. in the single market.

“All participants pledged to work together and with others across parliament to find a Commons majority for a close economic relationship with the EU to break the Brexit impasse and bring the country together,” a Labour spokesperson said shortly after the meeting broke up.

“They discussed how to build greater support on areas of agreement between Labour’s alternative plan and Common Market 2.0 and find possible areas of compromise.”

They could have an opportunity to test their plan in the Commons within days. Under the terms of the Withdrawal Act, the government’s defeat on its Brexit deal last week binds it to put forward an amendable motion on Brexit, which will be debated by the house on Monday. MPs will have the opportunity to vote on amendments that could help to determine a way forward out of the impasse.

Michel Barnier: Long Brexit delay would need ‘new political process’

The EU’s chief negotiator said any delay to Brexit day will need UK to set out what purpose it serves.

Michel Barnier said he had advised EU ministers that a long extension to Brexit would have to be linked to a “a new political process” in the U.K.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, who was speaking to journalists after briefing ministers on the General Affairs Council, did not specify what sort of change he meant, but he emphasized that the EU would need to see a clear purpose to any extension.

“I think that a long extension — I have said it to [EU] ministers — must be linked to something new, a new event, a new political process,” he said, without saying whether he had a change of negotiating red lines, a second referendum or something else in mind.

Diplomats say that they expect that U.K Prime minister Theresa May will send a letter ahead of Thursday’s European Council summit in Brussels. That will spell out London’s request to extend the Brexit cut off date beyond March 29 — something that May was forced into doing by a vote in the House of Commons last week. There must be unanimity among EU27 leaders for the extension of the Article 50 negotiating period to go ahead.

According to some diplomats, May could keep the door open to both possibilities — a short and a long extension. But Barnier declined to say whether this option would go down with EU leaders: “Either it’s short or it’s long but the question is what is the purpose?” he said, adding that he could not prejudge a decision that can only be taken by EU27 leaders.

Michel Barnier greets British PM Theresa May in Brussels on March 23 2018 | Jack Taylor via Getty Images

“An extension for what? Which ones are the objectives?” he asked.

He then specified three questions that leaders will ask before agreeing an extension: Does an extension increase the chances of ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement? Will the extension offer more time to rework the Political Declaration? How can the EU ensure it is not in the same position at the end of the extension?

He reiterated the EU’s offer that the Political Declaration, which sets out the framework for upcoming talks on the U.K.’s future relationship, “could be made more ambitious in the coming days if a majority in the House of Commons so wishes. If not what would be the purpose and the outcome of an extension?”


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Theresa May has a bigger problem than John Bercow

The route out of her crisis is to assemble a majority for a course of action — any course of action.

A majority in the House of Commons can do anything. That is the British constitution.

A majority can ignore a referendum. A majority can vote to leave the EU. It can ignore international law or even become North Korea if it so wants.

Theresa May’s problem is less the ruling Monday from Speaker John Bercow that she cannot keep bringing her deal back to parliament hoping for a different answer, than the fact she does not have a majority.

The route out of her crisis is to assemble a majority for a course of action — any course of action. Once she, or anyone else, has this, the crisis ends.

If the U.K. prime minister manages to build a majority for her deal, she could present to parliament a “paving motion” stating that it is the will of the House to have another vote on the deal. This is the key to unlock the speaker’s declaration that the next vote cannot be on a motion that is “the same [or] substantially the same” as that which MPs rejected on March 12.

Theresa May cannot muster a majority behind her deal

Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, hinted this is the government’s view as well. He said: “The speaker himself has said that where the will of the house is for a certain course of action it is important that that does follow. But the speaker’s ruling does raise the bar. Clearly, if members of parliament themselves are changing their vote, that does suggest that circumstances have changed.”

Even a paving motion might be unnecessary, however.

Should EU leaders offer a concrete extension of the Article 50 negotiating period at a summit in Brussels on Thursday, this would arguably change the circumstances on the ground, clearing the bar set by the speaker. A vote could then take place next week. It would, however, be for Bercow to decide whether that constitutes a “demonstrable change” to the motion before MPs.

Finally, if all options fail, the government can simply bring the current “session” of parliament to an end and start a new one without holding a new election — known as proroguing parliament.

Bercow’s ruling is a pain for the government. But the real cause is the same problem that has existed since November: Theresa May cannot muster a majority behind her deal.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.


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UK parliament votes to delay Brexit

The vote leaves open whether the delay will allow time to implement the existing deal or to find a new course of action.

The House of Commons voted in favor of delaying Brexit day beyond March 29, either to give time to implement a deal or to give time for an alternative course of action.

MPs voted by 412 to 202 (a majority of 210) in favor of a government motion that Theresa May was effectively forced into laying before the house after parliament voted Wednesday night to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

The motion sets out two scenarios for extending the Article 50 negotiation period. In the first, the House of Commons approves the prime minister’s deal by Wednesday March 20. She then goes to the European Council summit the following day requesting an extension until June 30 simply to get technical Brexit legislation through parliament.

May is expected to bring her deal back for a third meaningful vote on Monday or Tuesday next week to try and make this happen.

The second scenario deals with no approval for her deal by March 20. In that case, May will still go to the European Council seeking the extension. But the motion also notes that the EU would be “highly likely” to require a “clear purpose” for an extension, and that any extension beyond June 30 “would require the United Kingdom to hold European Parliament elections in May 2019.”

The latter element, simply stating the legal position that British MEPs will need to sit in the new European Parliament if the U.K. is a member when it is formed, appears to be aimed at spooking Brexiteers into voting for May’s deal to prevent such a scenario.

In an earlier vote, MPs voted down an amendment put down by former Tory MP Sarah Wollaston proposing a second Brexit referendum. It was defeated by 334 votes to 85, a majority of 249.

They also narrowly rejected a plan for backbench MPs to seize control of the Brexit process from the government by 314 votes to 312.

Donald Trump: Theresa May ‘didn’t listen’ to me on Brexit

‘I don’t think another vote would be possible because it would be very unfair to the people that won,’ US president says.

U.S. President Donald Trump said Theresa May “didn’t listen” to his ideas on how to negotiate Brexit, and a second vote on EU membership would be “very unfair to the people that won.”

Trump was speaking in Washington on Thursday alongside Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who is in the U.S for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

The U.S. president said he “predicted it [Brexit] was going to happen and I was right and people laughed when I predicted it and they won by about two points.”

“I’m surprised at how badly it’s all gone from the standpoint of the negotiation.”

Trump added that he gave the British prime minister “my ideas how to negotiate” Brexit but “she didn’t listen to that and that’s fine, she has to do what she has to do. I think it could have been negotiated in a different manner. I hate to see everything being ripped apart right now.”

But the president is not a fan of a second referendum. “I don’t think another vote would be possible because it would be very unfair to the people that won, to say what do you mean you’ll take another vote? That would be tough.”

“Very complicated issue. The issue on the border of Ireland is one of the most complex points,” he said, standing next to Varadkar.

“I would like to see that whole situation with Brexit worked out … We’re talking to them about trade and we can do a big trade deal with the U.K. We’re also renegotiating our trade deal with the European groups, literally individual nations, and also with the whole [bloc]. But it’s very sad to see what’s happening there.”


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How to watch tonight’s Brexit votes like a pro

MPs are seeking to take control of the Brexit process from Theresa May’s government.

LONDON — It’s another hugely important day in Brexit, with MPs set to vote on whether to instruct Theresa May to seek an extension of the Article 50 negotiating period until June 30 or potentially beyond.

MPs will begin voting at 5 p.m. local time and Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow selected four amendments for voting. The amendments would be non-binding but one, put down by Labour MP Hilary Benn and others, would set in train a parliamentary process that could lead to legally binding decisions.

Here’s what MPs will be voting on:

The government’s motion 

The motion sets out two scenarios for extending the Article 50 negotiation period. In the first, the House of Commons approves the prime minister’s deal by Wednesday March 20. She then goes to the European Council summit the following day requesting an extension until June 30 simply to get technical Brexit legislation through parliament. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has suggested an alternative end-date for an extension of May 23, so this could be a matter for debate at European Council.

May is expected to bring her deal back for a third meaningful vote on Monday or Tuesday next week to try and make this happen.

The second scenario deals with no approval for her deal by March 20. In that case, May will still go to the European Council seeking the extension. But the motion also notes that the EU would be “highly likely” to require a “clear purpose” for an extension, and that any extension beyond June 30 “would require the United Kingdom to hold European Parliament elections in May 2019.”

The latter element, simply stating the legal position that British MEPs will need to sit in the new European Parliament if the U.K. is a member when it is formed, appears to be aimed at spooking Brexiteers into voting for May’s deal to prevent such a scenario.

The government’s motion will be voted on after the amendments, so it might therefore not be put to MPs in its current form.

The Benn Amendment (i)

This has been put forward by the group of senior MPs, including Labour’s Yvette Cooper, Tory Oliver Letwin and Brexit committee chair Hilary Benn, who have been at the forefront of efforts to allow the House of Commons to wrest control of the Brexit process from Theresa May. It accepts an extension until June 30, but seeks a cast-iron guarantee of parliamentary time for backbenchers to put forward a motion on the way forward. Under the terms of the amendment this motion would be put forward on Wednesday next week.

It is likely that the MPs spearheading the process would then use the motion to establish a process of indicative votes — probably during the week commencing March 25. If it passes, would that be sufficient justification for the EU27 to grant an extension?

European Council President Donald Tusk | Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

This morning European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that he would urge leaders “to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its #Brexit strategy and build consensus around it.” So maybe.

In his opening statement in the debate on the motion, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington appeared to try and spike the Benn amendment by making his own pledge of a House of Commons process to find a way forward if, by next week’s European Council, May’s deal has not been agreed.

In such a scenario, he said, the government would for two weeks after the summit “consult through usual channels with other parties and we would work to provide a process by which the House could form a majority on how to take things forward.” Which sounds a lot like indicative votes.

The Wollaston Amendment (h)

Put forward by Independent Group MP Sarah Wollaston and other backers of a second referendum, this amendment will give the House of Commons a clear cut opportunity to vote on whether to hold a so-called People’s Vote. Brexiteers were furious that a rival amendment, seeking to rule out a second referendum, was not selected by Bercow.

However, the amendment appeared to be doomed after Labour said they would not support it. Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said that “today is about extending Article 50 and moving on from there.” This followed a statement from the People’s Vote campaign, which also indicated that they did not think today was the right moment to call for a second vote. Could this be because there clearly isn’t a majority in the House of Commons for it yet?

The Bryant Amendment (j)

This one, put forward by Labour MP Chris Bryant, is a bit of a curveball, but could prove hugely significant. It makes the argument that under the terms of Erskine May, the parliamentary rule book, governments should not bring forward the same motion again and again in the same parliamentary session. The amendment calls for Theresa May not to bring forward her Brexit deal for a third meaningful vote (now known in Whitehall as MV3).

Expectations are that May will try to bring MV3 before the House of Commons before the European Council, probably on Tuesday next week. If the Benn Amendment passes, taking over the parliamentary timetable on Wednesday, that would be her last chance before the Brussels summit.

The Labour Amendment (e)

The final amendment on the order paper is Labour’s frontbench amendment which simply asks for an extension as an opportunity to find a majority way forward. Voting on that will likely proceed along party lines and so it probably won’t pass.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.


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Donald Tusk floats long Brexit extension — for UK’s sake

Council president urges EU27 to consider granting long delay to avoid damage of no deal.

Hold the conspiracy theories, it’s not a trap.

European Council President Donald Tusk prefers a long Brexit extension because he believes the U.K. needs time to build a national consensus, according to a senior EU official.

Tusk, who has long said he wishes the U.K. would change its mind and stay in the EU, tweeted this morning that he would urge EU leaders to consider granting a “long extension” if Prime Minister Theresa May and her government request one.

After the House of Commons voted Wednesday night to prevent a no-deal departure by Britain, May issued a limited list of extension alternatives, including a short, technical delay provided that MPs change their mind and ratify her deal; or a long extension of perhaps a year or more.

May said the long extension would require the U.K. to participate in the European Parliament election in May, and that she opposes that idea. “I do not think that would be the right outcome,” she said.

“He wants to end the current circus; he really doesn’t believe there will be any breakthrough in the short term” — Senior EU official

Tusk’s tweet, after he initially refrained from comment on the Commons vote on Wednesday night, immediately prompted speculation that he is trying to help May pressure hard-line Brexiteers into ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement reached in November. They fear that a long delay would prevent the U.K. from ever leaving the bloc.

But a senior official close to Tusk said that he was merely echoing and expanding on a view that he first expressed at an Arab League summit in Egypt late last month: that a delay would be a more “rational” approach than the U.K. crashing out without a deal, with potentially heavy economic damage both to Britain and the EU.

“He wants to end the current circus; he really doesn’t believe there will be any breakthrough in the short term,” the official said. “That’s why he thinks the most obvious solution and way out is a long extension.”

By Tusk’s thinking, such an extension would last at least a year and give the U.K. the chance to build national consensus around a Brexit plan, which currently does not exist.

A POLITICO-Hanbury poll, conducted Tuesday night in the hours after the British parliament rejected the Withdrawal Agreement for a second time, confirmed the split view of the U.K. public, which is echoed in parliament. According to the poll, 37.8 percent of Britons want to remain in the EU, 23.5 percent want to leave without a deal, and 29.2 percent said they want to leave either with May’s deal (14.8 percent) or after a delay to negotiate a different deal (14.4 percent).

“It’s for the U.K. to rethink their strategy — what do they want — and build a consensus” — Senior EU official

“There is no national consensus,” the senior official said of Tusk’s thinking. “And he does not believe it will come around in the next week or in the next two months. So provided the U.K. asks for such a long extension, the EU27 should seriously consider it and be open to it.”

The official said Tusk was not trying to pressure Brexiteers.

“It’s not that he’s against helping May but he doesn’t believe in continuing this circus,” the official said. “He doesn’t believe in a short extension. If they have this meaningful vote next week and they get it through, all the better.”

Tusk also shares a view expressed by President Emmanuel Macron that the British public needs to coalesce around a strategy. “Exactly like Macron has said, it’s not about renegotiating,” the official added. “It’s for the U.K. to rethink their strategy — what do they want — and build a consensus.”

At the European Commission’s daily news conference, a spokesman declined again to speculate on what an extension might look like, saying the U.K. must first request a delay and provide an explanation.

“I will not make any comment on the likelihood of an extension, the duration of an extension,” spokesman Margaritis Schinas said. “First we need to see a U.K. reasoned request and then this will be in the hands of the EU27 leaders.”

Schinas also pointed to a previous letter by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to Tusk, in which Juncker said that the U.K.’s departure “should be complete” before the European Parliament election scheduled to take place from May 23-26. If the U.K. is still part of the bloc, Juncker wrote, it will be legally required to participate in the election.

 Schinas declined to comment on Tusk’s Tweet.


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Michel Barnier: Brexit extension ‘for what?’

The EU’s chief negotiator says bloc has gone as far as it could and talks are over.

STRASBOURG — The Brexit negotiation is “over” and the U.K. must now tell the EU what relationship it wants before asking for an extension to Article 50, the bloc’s negotiator Michel Barnier told MEPs today.

Barnier was responding to the second thumping rejection of the Brexit deal — with added legal assurances for the U.K. on the Irish backstop — agreed between London and Brussels. The House of Commons voted Tuesday evening to reject the deal by 391 votes to 242. It is the second time that MPs have dealt a crushing defeat to the deal.

The Commons is now set to vote on whether it wants a no-deal Brexit or subsequently on whether to instruct Prime Minister Theresa May to request an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period beyond March 29.

“Prolong this negotiation, to do what?” Barnier asked MEPs at the European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg. “The negotiation on Article 50 is over. We have a treaty. It is here.”

He said the EU “has gone as far as we could” to encourage MPs to back the deal and added that “the U.K. must tell us what it wants for our future relationship.”

“I am asked: Are you disappointed? My answer, our answer is: We remain respectful of the U.K., we remain determined calm and united and we will remain calm, respectful and united until the end of this extraordinary negotiation,” Barnier said.


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Poll: Half of UK voters want Theresa May to resign

Respondents also back MPs blocking no deal and voting for a delay to Brexit.

LONDON — British voters want Theresa May to resign as prime minister following the humiliating defeat for her Brexit deal and for MPs to block no deal while voting to extend Article 50, according to an exclusive snap poll.

The POLITICO-Hanbury poll of 500 adults, carried out in the hours after the U.K. prime minister’s Brexit deal was overwhelmingly rejected for a second time Tuesday evening, reveals widespread discontent with the amended deal May brought back to the Commons. The survey also showed growing support for no deal and a second referendum — as well as for remaining in the EU.

Most strikingly, there is now clear public support for the prime minister to quit. After Tuesday night’s events, 50 percent of respondents said May should resign, compared to just 32 percent who indicated she should stay. Even a quarter of Tory voters now think the PM should go, the poll suggests.

The public narrowly also favor — by 42 percent to 38 percent — a general election to break the deadlock. But on this question they are split along party lines, with Conservative voters opposed 76 to 16 percent and Labour voters in favor by 67 to 18 percent.

MPs are due to vote Wednesday on whether or not to pursue a no-deal exit from the EU. If the House of Commons rejects leaving the EU without an agreement, MPs will be asked to vote on Thursday on whether to ask the EU for an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period.

According to the snap poll, there is clear support for MPs rejecting no deal Wednesday and then extending Article 50 the following day in a bid to find a better negotiated settlement with Brussels.

Forty-seven percent of the public say parliament should vote to rule out no deal, compared to 35 percent who want MPs to vote in favor of leaving without an agreement with the EU, the poll suggests.

There is also support for an extension of the Article 50 negotiating period with 44 percent in favor and 39 percent against. This support drains away, however, the longer the proposed extension. The public clearly finds an extension of one month acceptable — 52 percent to 34 percent in favor. Support for a three-month delay is wafer thin: 44 percent to 43 percent.

While the poll results will make tough reading for May’s team in No. 10 Downing Street, there are a few glimmers of hope for those pushing for the prime minister to tough it out for a third meaningful vote.

While 41 percent of the public said parliament was right to reject the prime minister’s deal Tuesday night, compared to 33 percent who said they were wrong, this is reversed among Tory voters.

According to the poll, Conservative voters have rallied to the PM’s deal with 56 percent of Tories insisting the House of Commons was wrong to reject the deal and just 27 percent saying it was right.

In terms of what the prime minister should do after that, the country remains as divided as ever. Just under a third — 29 percent — want the PM to come out for a second referendum, while a quarter — 25 percent — want her to come out for no deal. Overall 35 percent still want some form of negotiated deal, even if that means with Labour support.

When asked about future options, 38 percent said they favored remaining in the EU. When this question was asked in a POLITICO-Hanbury poll in February, 31.5 percent said they wanted to retain EU membership.

Theresa May loses control of Brexit

MPs will vote Wednesday on whether to pursue a no-deal Brexit.

LONDON — No one has a clue what happens now.

After the second crushing defeat of the government’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement in two months, the British political system — and its prime minister — stands on a precipice.

With just over two weeks until Brexit Day, no one has a plan.

A vote on whether to leave the EU without a deal will take place in parliament at around 7 p.m., local time, Wednesday, but the Conservative Party is so riven over Brexit there will be no official government position.

The prime minister herself will only make her decision known during the day before the vote. On the biggest question of her premiership, she will not even be first among equals, just another MP bound by what everyone else decides.

“There will be no new negotiations. It is this” — Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president

Theresa May, almost physically reduced as she croaked and coughed through the day Tuesday, having lost her voice following negotiations in Strasbourg Monday night that ran late into the evening, has to all intents and purposes lost control.

Should parliament vote to leave the EU without a deal, it will become government policy, even though the prime minister has warned it jeopardizes national security, threatens to unravel the union and will make its citizens poorer. MPs will attempt to amend the motion with their own plans for a limited deal with a transition but no backstop, but No.10 Downing Street believes it has all but reached the end of the road on what it can wring out of Brussels.

As Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker put it: “There will be no new negotiations. It is this.”

Should MPs reject no deal on Wednesday, parliament will vote on Thursday over whether the government should ask the EU for an extension.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker | John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

This, though, is the extent of the government’s plan.

What would happen if MPs said no to no deal and no to an extension? What if the European Union rejects the extension request? What if the EU only offers a lengthy — or very short — extension? “To be honest, I don’t know,” said one senior government official.

On the biggest strategic question Britain has faced since the end of World War II, the government has its head down hoping not to trip up, one step at a time, hands out feeling into the fog.

Wednesday will start with the publication of the U.K. government’s emergency plans for tariffs and the Irish border in the event of no deal. The market-sensitive papers will be published at 7 a.m. Shortly afterwards, the Cabinet will convene to discuss the route ahead. But in truth, for 48 hours at least, the House of Commons is in total control.

But parliament, like the government — and the country at large — is split. There is no majority for a deal; no majority for no deal; no majority for withdrawing Article 50; and no majority for a second referendum.

If the EU says no to kicking the can down the road, all bets are off.

In the vote Tuesday, the prime minister could only muster 235 Conservative MPs to back her deal along with three Labour MPs and four independents. Massed against them stood 238 Labour MPs and 75 Conservatives — plus all the Democratic Unionist Party MPs who give the Tories their majority in parliament, as well as all the other smaller parties.

While May has no idea what comes next, most of the 75 Tory rebels do not have a plan either.

In the debate before the vote, Boris Johnson had stood up to rally the rebel forces, declaring for no deal.

The prime minister’s decision, hours later, to offer MPs a free vote on the matter all but kills the chances of no deal. Yet, Johnson, aware that the overwhelming majority of the Commons opposes no deal, insisted it was now the best option.

The prime minister’s Brexit deal, he warned, would set the U.K. on “a path to a subordinate relationship.”

“I accept that in the short term [no deal] is the more difficult road,” he told MPs. “But in the end it’s the only safe route out of the abyss and the only safe path to self respect.”

Former U.K. Foreign Secretary and Brexit agitator Boris Johnson | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The alternative was “humiliation and the subordination of our democracy.”

When the prime minister stood up to address MPs on the way forward following the defeat, she said she had “personally struggled” with whether to push on for no deal or request an extension from the EU.

The government motion on no deal Wednesday will, however, state that the house “declines to approve leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement.” The framing of the motion suggests she will vote for it — or, in other words, against leaving without a deal.

But she warned MPs that voting against no deal and for an extension did not solve the problem they all faced and indicated that she had not yet given her deal its last rites. “I still believe there is a majority in the House,” she said.

Yet, May did lay out the options now before MPs if her deal was unacceptable.

“The EU will want to know what use we mean to make of such an extension,” she warned. “This House will have to answer that question. Does it wish to revoke Article 50? Does it want to hold a second referendum? Or does it want to leave with a deal but not this deal?”

“If others wish to do the wrong thing and frustrate Brexit that will be a matter for them but they are not going to bully me into doing the wrong thing by threatening it” — Steve Baker, Tory MP

The prime minister did not mention a snap general election, but that is a fourth choice some of her most senior advisers believe is all but inevitable.

The EU has ruled out any further negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement, though the Labour Party believes substantial changes to the future declaration may be possible.

By opening up the prospect of revocation of article 50 or a second referendum, May is hoping to pile pressure on her Conservative backbenchers. Her closest aides pointedly refused to rule out bringing the deal back to MPs for a third time.

Brexit hardliner Steve Baker on Tuesday indicated that there was no way he could ever back May’s deal as it stood — even in the face of a potential softer Brexit or no Brexit at all.

He told POLITICO: “I am certainly not going to allow my conduct to be determined by fear of the bad conduct of others,” he said.

“If others wish to do the wrong thing and frustrate Brexit that will be a matter for them but they are not going to bully me into doing the wrong thing by threatening it.”