Brexit: the past seven days

In a tumultuous Brexit week, MPs took control of the parliamentary timetable and then rejected Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement for a third time, despite an offer from the Prime Minister to stand down if it was approved. So what has happened and what will happen next?

– Days to go

Possibly 14, if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal on April 12. If not, then virtually any larger number you can think of, depending on whether Brussels grants an extension to the end of this year, next year or any other date.

– What happened this week?

Mrs May staged a summit of ministers and hardline Brexiteers at her Chequers country residence on Sunday. MPs voted by a majority of 27 on Monday to force a series of indicative votes on Brexit options, with three ministers quitting the Government to support the bid. When it came to the vote on Wednesday, all eight options were rejected, with support highest for a second referendum or a customs union with the EU. The historic moment was overshadowed by Mrs May’s promise to Tory MPs that she will hand over to another leader for the next phase of Brexit negotiations.

Protesters in Parliament Square voiced anger that the UK had failed to leave the European Union on March 29 as planned (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

But her sacrifice was in vain, as her Withdrawal Agreement went down to defeat by a margin of 58 on the day when Brexit was scheduled to happen. The result was greeted with anger by pro-Leave demonstrators outside.

– What happens next?

MPs will take control of the Commons timetable again on Monday in a bid to whittle down alternative Brexit options to a compromise which can command a majority in the House. If this succeeds, they could attempt to force through legislation on Wednesday requiring the Government to adopt it. Meanwhile, Theresa May and her ministers will scramble to seek another route forward for her deal, after Downing Street indicated she was not giving it up. The UK needs a plan in place by the time of an emergency EU summit on April 10, when Britain must ask for an extension or leave without a deal two days later.

– Good week
Sir Oliver Letwin

Former Cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin led a successful bid for Parliament to seize control of the Brexit debate (UK Parliament/PA)

The cerebral Conservative grandee was styled the “real prime minister” by some after his plan to seize control of the Brexit process succeeded. In highly unusual scenes in the Commons, he was able to dictate events from the backbenches on Wednesday, though he professed himself “disappointed” that none of the Brexit options put forward by MPs won a majority.

– Bad week
Boris Johnson

The former foreign secretary put his reputation as Brexit figurehead at risk by backing a Withdrawal Agreement he had previously condemned as a “complete stinker”, only to find too few rebel Tories following him to get it over the line.

At the very moment when a leadership contest seems imminent, his decision may have cost him some of the votes of Leave-leaning MPs which he will need to capture Downing Street.

– Quote of the week

“I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party.” – Theresa May, addressing the Tory backbench 1922 Committee on Wednesday.

– Tweet of the week

“12 April is now the new 29 March #Brexit” – European Commission Martin Selmayr – the right-hand man of president Jean-Claude Juncker – summed up the impact of Friday’s vote.

12 April is now the new 29 March #Brexit

— Martin Selmayr (@MartinSelmayr) March 29, 2019

– Word of the week

Just two days before the UK had been due to leave the EU, MPs were finally given a chance to voice their preferences for how it should happen, in a series of eight Yes or No “indicative votes” on a ballot paper.

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