PM to make statement in Commons on Brexit

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Theresa May is due to make a statement on Brexit to MPs later, which will be followed by a debate on next steps. MPs are then expected to vote on a series of alternatives to the prime minister’s Brexit deal. Ministers were feeling “more positive” about being able to hold a third vote on the PM’s deal this week, sources told Laura Kuenssberg. But Northern Ireland’s DUP has said its position has not changed and it will not be backing the deal. Mrs May’s EU withdrawal agreement has been overwhelmingly rejected in the Commons twice. She has said she would only bring her deal back for a third Commons vote if there was “sufficient support” for it and she spent the weekend trying to persuade Brexiteer Tories to get behind it But many are thought likely to take their lead from the DUP, which has led objections to the Irish backstop clause. Meanwhile, the EU has said all its preparation for an “increasingly likely” no-deal scenario on 12 April has been completed. Later, MPs are expected to back a plan to carve out parliamentary time for a series of so-called indicative votes on alternatives to Mrs May’s deal. As many as six other options, in addition to Mrs May’s deal, could be put to votes to see which are most popular.

Conservative MP Sir Oliver Letwin told reporters that once Mrs May knew what it would take to get a majority vote, it would help her find “a way forward in principle”. But International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told news that Parliament may want to look at a series of Brexit options, but they cannot be binding on the government. “I’m answerable to my voters not to the House of Commons,” he said. He told the Today program there had to be an agreed deal by 11 April, otherwise the UK will have to take part in EU elections, which “would unleash a torrent of pent up frustration from voters”. The indicative votes are a process for MPs to indicate which version of Brexit they might like if they don’t fancy the prime minister’s deal. But there’s a clash in government over whether or not they should go into this process at all. Parliament is going to do this anyway and the government has given a commitment for MPs to be able to have their say on a series of different ideas. To be clear, it would not bind the government even if there is one option that gets a clear preference from Parliament. It would still have to get through the cabinet and it would still have to be workable for the Tory party.

That could then mean if Parliament puts down a marker to have a softer Brexit, Theresa May is stuck with the same problem she’s had all along: if she moves to something softer she might implode the Tory party. Quite openly now, people in government are talking about something more dramatic as a way out. Cryptically they call that a “democratic event”. What would we call that? An election. On Sunday, amid reports of a plot to replace Mrs May with a caretaker prime minister, two cabinet ministers touted as potential successors said they fully backed the PM. As senior figures dismissed talk of a “coup”, Mrs May summoned leading opponents of her deal to Chequers, her country retreat, to assess whether there was enough support for it to bring it back to the Commons this week. But after lengthy talks with prominent Brexiteers including Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Iain Duncan Smith there was little sign of an immediate breakthrough. It follows a week in which Mrs May was forced to ask the EU for an extension to Article 50 and hundreds of thousands of people marched in central London calling for another EU referendum.

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