Britain’s exit from the European Union remained deadlocked last night after the House of Commons failed to agree on any alternative to Prime Minister Theresa May’s divorce deal.
After a tumultuous week in which Mrs May’s divorce strategy was rejected by MPs for a third time despite her offer to quit if it passed, the future direction of Brexit remains mired in confusion.
In a bid to break the impasse, MPs on Monday debated and voted on four alternative Brexit options, but all four options were defeated.
The option that came closest to getting a majority was a proposal to keep Britain in a customs union with the EU. That option was defeated by three votes.
A proposal for a second referendum to confirm any deal got the most votes, but was defeated 292-280.
Brexit minister Steven Barclay said after the results were announced that the default position was still that the UK – and with it Gibraltar – would leave the EU on April 12 without a deal to soften the economic dislocation of an abrupt departure.
Last Friday, the third defeat of Mrs May’s own withdrawal agreement left one of the weakest British leaders in a generation facing a spiralling crisis over Brexit, the United Kingdom’s most far-reaching policy change since World War Two.
Her government and the Conservative Party, which has been trying to contain a schism over Europe for 30 years, are now riven between those who are demanding that Mrs May pilot a decisive break with the bloc and those demanding that she rule out such an outcome.
If Mrs May were to throw her weight behind either camp, she would risk tearing her party apart and bringing down the government.
Some Conservative MPs have warned they will support a motion of no confidence if she accepts calls for a Brexit that maintains many of the existing close economic ties with the EU.
Britain and Gibraltar had been due to leave the EU on March 29 but the political deadlock in London forced Mrs May to ask the bloc for a delay.
As things stand, Britain will now depart at 2200 GMT on April 12 unless Mrs May comes up with another viable option.
If the UK seeks a long extension beyond that date, it will have to demonstrate a viable plan to the EU and will almost certainly have to participate in EU election at the end of May.
Last night Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, who has backed Mrs May and her deal but believes that the best future for Gibraltar and the UK is inside the EU, repeated an earlier call for the UK to revoke Article 50 and find the space to calmly plan the next steps.
“The options are narrowing and time is running out,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo last night.
“The only safe thing to do, in the absence of a Withdrawal Agreement, is to revoke the Article 50 notification.”
“The closer we are to the 12th April, the more likely revocation becomes the only safe route open to avoid no deal.”
The UK is legally entitled to unilaterally revoke the Article 50 notification that triggered Brexit, although the EU is unlikely to look favourably at revocation as a delaying tactic without any clear goal in sight.
Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the GSD, said the UK Parliament’s rejection of all the options last night, even if by small margins, underlined “the terrible impasse” in Westminster.
“There is no obvious way forward although the elimination of other options may allow the final emergence of a majority view in coming days that commands support in Parliament,” he told the Chronicle.
“The prospect that the UK Government will bring back the Withdrawal Agreement for a fourth time would make the political process seem quite farcical.”
“At this stage and as we are now only nine working days from Brexit realistically options are running out and a long extension or revocation to avoid hard Brexit are increasingly likely.”
“The GSD position remains unchanged. This is a bad deal for Gibraltar and we will support the emergence of an option that makes our remaining in the EU more likely.”
Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon, who leads the Together Gibraltar party, echoed the sentiment that the UK and Gibraltar were better off inside the EU.
She said the UK Government should either revoke Article 50 or put the decision back in the hands of voters.
“I am sure I am not alone in saying that the ongoing torture in the House Of Commons is absolutely exasperating for millions of people,” she said.
“The clear rejection by majority of motion after motion, session after session, should by default be an indicator to Parliament that if they are not able to reach a consensus on any direction, all the more reason to either revoke the status quo or let the people decide as surely they will be more resolute than what we have seen so far and this is where I believe Gibraltar should be pushing its weight.”