LONDON (AP) — British lawmakers are preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May.
The House of Commons has scheduled a five-hour debate on the various alternatives, after which lawmakers will be asked to vote for all of the options they could accept. The most popular ideas will move to a second vote on Monday in hopes of finding one option that can command a majority.
The debate comes two days after lawmakers took control of the parliamentary agenda away from the government amid concern May was unwilling to compromise. The prime minister has said she will consider the outcome of the “indicative votes,” though she has refused to be bound by the result.
Lawmakers have submitted 16 different options for consideration, though Speaker John Bercow is expected to whittle the number down to about half a dozen before debate begins. The proposals include leaving the EU without a deal, remaining in the bloc’s single market and customs union, and holding a new referendum on Britain’s membership in the bloc.
The government still hopes to bring the divorce deal that May struck with the EU back for another vote in the House of Commons, if it could win over enough opponents to ensure passage. Lawmakers rejected the deal by 230 votes in January and again by 149 votes earlier this month, primarily because of concerns about the Northern Ireland border.
House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom told the BBC there is a “real possibility” the unpopular agreement will be considered again on Thursday or Friday.
“We’re completely determined to make sure that we can get enough support to bring it back,” Leadsom said, adding that the deal is the only way to guarantee Britain leaves the EU.
Some opponents say they may now vote for the deal amid fears that Parliament’s decision to take control of the process will lead to Brexit being delayed or abandoned.
Lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has sought a complete break from the European Union, says May’s deal is still a bad one, but “the risk is, if I don’t back it, we don’t leave the EU at all.”
“I don’t begin to pretend this is a good deal or this is a good choice. I think that we should have been leaving at 11 o’clock on Friday,” he told the BBC, referring to Britain’s scheduled exit day. “I think we have got to the point where legally leaving is better than not leaving at all. Half a loaf is better than no bread.”
But Rees-Mogg said he won’t back the deal unless Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party decides to vote for it. The DUP, which has 10 seats in the House of Commons, said Tuesday that it still wasn’t prepared to support the “toxic” deal.
Almost three years after Britons voted to leave the EU, the date and terms of its departure are up in the air. Last week, the EU granted Britain a delay to the scheduled March 29 exit date, saying that if Parliament approved the proposed divorce deal, the U.K. would leave the EU on May 22. If not, the government has until April 12 to tell the 27 remaining EU countries what it plans to do — leave without a deal, cancel Brexit or propose a radically new path.
The UK could also ask for a longer delay, but that would mean that the country would have to take part in the upcoming European elections.
The chief of the European Union’s Council says the bloc should be open to welcoming Britain at the European Parliament’s May 23-26 election even as it prepares to leave.
Referring to recent protests and petitions by pro-EU groups in Britain, EU Council President Donald Tusk told legislators it is “unacceptable” to think, as some do, that Britain should not take part in EU business as the country prepares to leave.
“You cannot betray the 6 million people who signed a petition to revoke Article 50 — the one million people who marched for a people’s vote or the increasing majority of people who want to remain in the European Union,” he said.