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On Brexit, Parliament’s only consensus comes as rejection

British Parliament voted Wednesday on eight proposals for how the United Kingdom should handle a stalled Brexit, yielding no consensus beyond disapproval for exiting the European Union without a deal. As a result, is the outlook brightening for Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan, which Parliament has rejected twice? Nick Schifrin talks to Allie Renison of the Institute of Directors for analysis.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In London, lawmakers and Theresa May's government are trying to overcome deep divisions to set a final path forward on Brexit.

    Today, Mrs. May promised to resign if Parliament supported her version of the United Kingdom's divorce from the European Union.

    But members of Parliament have their own ideas, and, just minutes ago, voted on different versions of Brexit.

    Nick Schifrin sorts through today's developments during one of the most important weeks in British politics in decades.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Judy, the debate over Brexit has divided the British people and political parties. For two years, Parliament has been unable to come to any kind of consensus.

    Lawmakers today tried to change that by voting on eight different versions of Brexit. I will get to the results in a minute.

    But, first, listen to today's appeals of unity made by members of Parliament.

  • Stephen Kinnock:

    Mr. Speaker, this really is five minutes to midnight for this Parliament, for this government, and for our country.

    We desperately need to find a way out of this mess. Our country has spent two years tied up in knots by the prime minister's incompatible red lines.

  • Nick Boles:

    After years of paralyzing conflict, we have a moral duty to open our minds this afternoon and reach for a compromise that will allow us to put the interminable Brexit row behind us.

  • Kenneth Clarke:

    It is going to be possible to end the catastrophic shambles of the last six months. We are beginning to talk about actually being able to take decisions founded on some sort of cross-party consensus and some search for a majority that can be sustained.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That call for consensus didn't mute any mouths in Parliament, but it apparently fell on deaf ears, because take a look at the results of tonight's votes.

    Option one, leave the European Union without a deal. Result, rejected. Options two through five were versions of a softer Brexit, meaning a closer relationship with Europe. Those included a frictionless relationship with the E.U., an option to remain in the E.U. single market, an opposition to negotiate a permanent customs union, and option four, the Labor Party's alternative, described as close alignment with the E.U., all of those were rejected.

    Option six, revoke Article 50, cancel Brexit entirely, rejected. And option seven, a second referendum, like the one that launched this process in 2016, but only after the Parliament endorsed a deal result, rejected.

    And option eight, basically a wish list for the people who want a complete divorce from the E.U. Result, rejected.

    So, what does it all mean?

    For that, we turn to Allie Renison, the head of E.U. and trade policy for the Institute of Directors, the oldest businessmen membership organization in the U.K.

    Thank you very much for joining us on the "NewsHour," Allie Renison.

    Why no consensus in Parliament today?

  • Allie Renison:

    I think it's a reflection of the fact that the government went headlong into this negotiation without actually trying to figure out if there was a consensus in Parliament.

    You had the opposition party, the Labor Party, saying for quite some time it wasn't going to back her deal unless it met the kind of test that it wanted. But there wasn't a lot of reaching across the aisle. And, lo and behold, the deal has now been rejected twice.

    Interestingly, I think, actually, one of the implications of tonight's lack of consensus, apart from voting against no deal, is that it actually potentially makes getting the deal through — this is a separate process — potentially more likely. I think the very close votes, even though there wasn't a clear majority for anything other than no deal, and — reflect the fact that actually there's a lot of conservative M.P.s who were opposed to the deal who may now think that, because of the close results, if they don't back the deal, you may get a longer extension, which facilitates another referendum.

    And so we may actually end up having a vote on the deal on Friday. And that will be a really close call.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Right. So let's take this step by step.

    As you said, there is a parallel process for Theresa May's version of Brexit. The government tonight says, well, look, Parliament, you couldn't come to a consensus. So, therefore, you should endorse Theresa May's version of Brexit.

    So that has to happen, according to the E.U., this week. As you said, it could happen Friday. Do these votes mean that she actually has the votes to pass that — her version of Brexit, given that it would be the third version — the third time that she's actually brought it to a vote?

  • Allie Renison:

    Not necessarily.

    Now, the numbers have been shrinking every time. That's not because the opposition parties have been any less opposed to the deal, but more because, the closer we get to an exit date, and potentially — particularly because Parliament keeps voting against no deal, I think there are a lot of parliamentarians in the Conservative Party who are worried about, if they continue to oppose the deal, they will lose Brexit altogether.

    Now, the one big question mark after all that is the party that actually props up the Conservative Party in government, which is one of the main — Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. And they don't like the deal because they think, effectively, it treats Northern Ireland differently. It keeps Northern Ireland tied under an insurance policy, if they can't sort the Irish border in the next phase, more closely aligned to the E.U. than the rest of the U.K. And they don't particularly like that.

    And those numbers, because we have what's called a hung Parliament in the U.K., where it's a minority government supported by this other Unionist Party, means it's very, very difficult to actually call.

    So — and the P.M., the prime minister, has said that she doesn't want to bring a deal back until she absolutely has the numbers. But it may be a case of better late than never, you have to try and get it through on Friday.

    The only other, I think, concern about that is, the speaker of the House has said that you can't actually vote on something more than twice certainly that looks the exact same. So there is a question mark about the speaker's impartiality, whether he will actually block the deal from coming back a third time.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So if a deal can't be voted on a third time, or if she can't get it through, does that mean a longer extension?

  • Allie Renison:

    It looks more likely.

    Now, there are some Conservative M.P.s who are sanguine and OK with no deal, who think that the prime minister should just ignore Parliament's votes against no deal, because, technically, it's nonbinding, and they think the government should act.

    The reality is, politically, that would be a big, big deal for Theresa May, the prime minister. She has said that she will listen to the will of Parliament. And the only thing so far expressed is an opposition to no deal. And we know that, from the conditions that the E.U. set out last week in agreeing to this extension, that the only other outcome, if they don't vote for the deal this week, is a longer extension, where you would have to participate in European elections.

    And that's obviously a politically fraught issue on this side of the pond, because a lot of people who voted leave don't want to be in a situation where, three years, having voted to leave the European Union, we are still electing British representatives to the European institutions.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And so very quickly, Allie Renison, in the 30 seconds we have left, is this going to lead to some kind of more dramatic moment, for example, another general election in the U.K.?

  • Allie Renison:

    I think, potentially, because — and you have had some of the prime minister's own members of her parties who supported leave saying, effectively, if you can't get the deal through, if you cannot get your legislation relating to the deal through, you can't govern, and, therefore, you need another election.

    The question mark being, does a general election actually solve anything in the long run?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And that is the big question.

    Allie Renison, head of E.U. and trade policy for the Institute of Directors, thank you very much.

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