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After another failed vote, what’s next for Brexit?

Parliament rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed Brexit deal for a third time Friday, though by a smaller margin than in the prior two votes. While May vowed to keep trying to secure her deal’s approval, both the UK government and its people remain divided. Judy Woodruff talks to Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, a London think tank, about the lack of consensus and May’s outlook.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we just reported, the British Parliament today rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's proposed Brexit deal for the third time. She lost by nearly 60 votes, 286-344, although that margin was narrower than her previous two attempts.

    She vowed to keep trying to convince Parliament to approve her version of the U.K.'s divorce from the European Union. But leaders are deeply divided over the prime minister's promise to soldier on, over calls for a new election, over revoking Brexit entirely, and a second referendum.

  • Theresa May:

    This government will continue to press the case for the orderly Brexit that the result of the referendum demands.

  • Jeremy Corbyn:

    The House has been clear this deal now has to change. There has to be an alternative found. And if the prime minister can't accept that, then she must go, not at an indeterminate date in the future, but now, so that we can decide the future of this country through a general election.

  • Ian Blackford:

    I suggest to the prime minister we now must look seriously at the option of revocation.

  • Heidi Allen:

    The way out of this impasse, as many of us has been saying for months and months and months, we must have a people's vote now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, that clear lack of consensus has not only prevented Brexit from proceeding, but it's frustrated members of the Cabinet, members of Parliament, and the British public.

    Today, thousands filled the streets outside Parliament to protest for Brexit. Demonstrators argued the U.K. was supposed to leave the E.U. today, and chanted the slogan, "Leave means leave."

    To help sort all this out, we turn to Robin Niblett. He's the director of the London think tank Chatham House.

    Robin Niblett, welcome back to "NewsHour."

    So, please explain, why did it fail again today?

  • Robin Niblett:

    Well, for the one simple reason that Theresa May has been unable to convince, most importantly, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Irish group that are supporting her government.

    Their opposition has given coverage for another 30 or so Conservative M.P.s, a hard-core of very strong Brexiteers, to say they feel her deal is too soft. Her deal is one that's going to trap, they believe, the United Kingdom into an endless negotiation and stop the kind of cathartic Brexit they want.

    And, of course, the Labor Party has remained strong. She was only able to pull over five Labor M.P.s from the other side. So, the net-net is, she's lost again, but it has been a change from a 230-seat loss, 149-seat loss, and now a 48-seat loss. So it is getting close — a 58-seat loss.

    It's getting closer, but still far away.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So the deadline was to be today. That's now gone by the boards. Now we're told the deadline is April the 12th. Why that date?

  • Robin Niblett:

    Well, what's important is that the European 27, the other 27 member states, have said that they have given a new Brexit date of April the 12th, because that would fall one day after the date by which the British Parliament would need to call European parliamentary elections.

    So they have said, if you want us to extend the negotiation beyond April 12, you guys need to participate in the European parliamentary elections, which will take place between May 23 and May 26. The latest date by which the British Parliament can set that process in motion of those elections is April the 11th.

    And so, today, the European Council president, Donald Tusk, has called a special E.U. summit for April the 10th, in preparation for when they see what the British government will tell them, and they can decide what they're going to do next.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So one cliffhanger after another.

    The E.U. is saying, we could extend this, but only for a — quote — "meaningful reason." What does that mean?

  • Robin Niblett:

    Well, they have got to feel that they're not just going to get dragged into sort of endless months of British parliamentary — being stuck.

    They want to know that, if they are going to extend it, it's for a purpose. And the kind of purpose we talk about here is if the prime minister decided to call, for example, a general election around her deal or around some other deal, or if these indicative votes that have been taking place since last weekend or since Monday, this — earlier this week, and which are likely to happen again on Monday this week that is coming up, is there likely to be some type of big change in there that she could go back to the European Council with?

    Might there be a call for a second referendum? Might there be a different type of future deal that Parliament can get behind, if Theresa May has not gotten behind it?

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Robin Niblett:

    Those would be the kind of changes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, in terms of what they're going to be voting on Monday next week, does any one of those choices have the makings of a consensus?

  • Robin Niblett:

    Look, none of them got through when they were voted on, on Wednesday this week. What — that was how we have always said a kind of exercise of throwing paint at the wall, see what's going to stick, what doesn't.

    The most popular one, it seemed, in terms of the one that comes — came closest having a majority was for was called having a permanent customs union. That was tying a Brexit Britain, a Britain that has already left, into a permanent trading relationship, a customs union.

    However, the one that got the most votes, even though it had quite a bit of opposition, was for what's called a confirmatory referendum. In other words, Labor members might accept Theresa May's deal, providing it is then put to a referendum, with an option for the British public to vote to remain if they don't want to Theresa May's deal.

    That also came very close. So, Parliament is trying to find its way around to a solution that doesn't mean going back fully on the last referendum, doesn't mean giving up on Brexit, but is trying to tweak Theresa May's deal to something that looks a lot softer, or that could come up with a referendum.

    Those, to me, seem to be the two options that are emerging as the strongest.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so there could be, there could be another referendum, but it would be a different format, if you will.

    What about Theresa May herself? What is her fate coming through this?

  • Robin Niblett:

    She has said that, if people back her withdrawal deal, if they simply back the process of Britain leaving the E.U., she will then step down as leader of the Conservative Party, give Conservative M.P.s an opportunity to elect a new leader, who would then negotiate the future relationship.

    You have got to remember, all we're trying to do here is leave and actually get the leaving part done. The future relationship, although there is a vague political declaration, is still there to be negotiated. So, she said, back my deal, I will step down, I will let somebody else come forward.

    So she's in a very precarious position at the moment. She just wants to deliver Brexit, then step back.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Robin Niblett, we're all on the edge of our seats, and thank you for helping make it understandable.

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