British prime minister Theresa May could bring her Brexit deal back to the House of Commons this week after MPs last night rejected four other options, including a customs union and a second referendum.
Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay said Britain could still avoid a no-deal Brexit or a long delay by backing the prime minister’s deal.
“If the House were to agree a deal this week it may still be possible to avoid holding European parliamentary elections. Cabinet will meet in the morning to consider the results of tonight’s vote and how we should proceed,” he said.
Speaker John Bercow selected four options for debate, down from eight last week, with MPs allowed to vote for as many as they wished. They rejected a customs union by 276 votes to 273, a majority of three, and a proposal to put any deal to a confirmatory referendum by 292 votes to 280, a majority of 12.
A proposal for membership of both the single market and the customs union was defeated by 282 votes to 261, a majority of 21, and a revocation of article 50 rather than leaving with no deal by 292 votes to 191, a majority of 101.
The DUP voted against all four motions and deputy leader Nigel Dodds said it was not too late for Mrs May to seek changes to the backstop.
“There is still an opportunity for the prime minister and the government to prosecute the issue which has bedevilled her withdrawal agreement throughout, the backstop. And that issue still needs to be addressed and if it is addressed then we can be in business,” he said.
Mrs May has called her cabinet to a five-hour meeting on Tuesday – more than three times the usual length – amid speculation that she could seek a long delay to Brexit in order to call a general election if she cannot win a majority for her deal. Ministers will meet in the morning for three hours without officials to discuss political options before meeting in their regular formation for two hours after lunch.
EU leaders meet in Brussels on April 10th and Britain will leave without a deal two days later unless MPs back a Brexit deal or the prime minister requests a long extension, which requires the unanimous approval of all member states.
Advocates of the motions calling for softer forms of Brexit involving a customs union or single market membership blamed MPs committed to a second referendum for failing to back them. Nick Boles, who tabled the motion for single market and customs union membership, pointed the finger at other Conservatives and announced that he could no longer take the party whip.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, said after the votes at Westminster that a no-deal Brexit was now “nearly inevitable”.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is expected to make the case for a long extension when he meets French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Tuesday and German chancellor Angela Merkel in Dublin on Thursday.
Government sources rejected claims that the Taoiseach is under pressure from Europe’s two most powerful leaders to outline how Ireland will deal with the Border if Britain leaves the EU without a deal.
They acknowledged that the meetings in the coming days will see Mr Varadkar discuss how to both protect the EU single market and keep the Border open in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
EU sources said this could include checks, in customs for example, away from the Border – such as in places of origin or destination, or at locations such as Dublin Port.