Brexit latest: What will happen now MPs have rejected Theresa May’s deal for a third time?

What does the prime minister’s latest defeat mean for Brexit, her premiership and the prospects of a general election?

Theresa May has failed in her latest bid to persuade MPs to approve her Brexitdeal.

The prime minister had tried a different approach, asking the Commons to vote on the legally-binding withdrawal agreement alone, rather than with the non-binding plan for the future UK-EU relationship, as happened in the previous two votes. 

But even that was not enough to secure parliament’s backing, as MPs rejected the agreement by 344 votes to 286 – a majority of 58.

It is another major blow for the prime minister, who is running out of options to deliver Brexit and facing mounting pressure to resign.

But what happens next? 

What does the latest defeat mean for Brexit?

It makes a lengthy delay to Brexit much more likely.

The European Council ruled last week that parliament would have to approve the withdrawal agreement by 29 March if Britain is to leave the EU with a deal on May 22. That has not happened.

According to the Council’s ruling, the UK now has until 12 April to put forward an alternative plan or leave the bloc without a deal on that day.

MPs are almost certain to block a no-deal exit, so the most likely alternative is the government having to request a long delay to Brexit to allow parliament to work out what kind of deal it might support. 

Speaking immediately after her latest defeat, Ms May told MPs: “The implications of the House’s decision are grave. The legal default now is that the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on 12 April – in just 14 days’ time.

“This is not enough time to agree, legislate for and ratify a deal, and yet the House has been clear it will not permit leaving without a deal. And so we will have to agree an alternative way forward.

“The European Union has been clear that any further extension will need to have a clear purpose and will need to be agreed unanimously by the heads of the other 27 member states ahead of 12 April. It is also almost certain to involve the UK being required to hold European Parliamentary elections.”

What does it mean for Theresa May’s premiership?

That is unclear. On the one hand, the prime minister has pledged to resign if her deal is approved by MPs. That has not happened, making it more likely that she will stay in post.

On the other hand, Ms May has strongly hinted that she is not willing to seek a lengthy delay to Brexit, which is what parliament is likely to force her to do. Earlier this month, she said: ‘I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further [than the end of June].”

That prompted speculation that the prime minister would resign if she is asked to request a long extension to Article 50. She did not confirm this definitively, however, and so her deal being rejected again makes it more likely that she will stay on – at least for now.

Will there be yet another vote on Ms May’s Brexit deal?

Don’t rule it out.

Ms May is determined to secure parliament’s approval for the deal she has spent most of the last two years negotiating. She told MPs on Friday that her government would “continue to press the case for the orderly Brexit that the result of the referendum demands”.

Government officials suggested the prime minister is likely to try to hold a fourth vote on her deal next week.

However, she will need to find a way around the ruling by John Bercow, the Commons speaker, that there cannot be another vote on the deal unless it has changed “substantially”. This is because parliamentary rules forbid repeated votes on matters that have already been decided on by MPs. 

Opposing protesters flock to parliament on would be date of Brexit

Splitting the withdrawal agreement from the political declaration allowed the government to bypass that ruling on Friday.

Government sources suggested they could also do so by holding a two-way vote between Ms May’s deal and whichever is the most popular outcome when MPs hold a second round of “indicative votes” on various Brexit options on Monday. That is likely to present Tory Eurosceptics with a stark choice: either back Ms May’s deal or face the prospect of a much softer Brexit or a fresh referendum that could result in no Brexit at all.

Is a general election now on the cards?

Some MPs believe a general election is now the only way to break the deadlock gripping parliament.

It would also be difficult for the current government to agree to seek a softer Brexit involving, for example, a customs union with the EU, given Theresa May and her ministers have repeatedly ruled this out. 

The prime minister appeared to hint at the possibility of a general election immediately after the vote, telling MPs: “I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House.

“This House has rejected no deal. It has rejected no Brexit. On Wednesday it rejected all the variations of the deal on the table. And today it has rejected approving the withdrawal agreement alone and continuing a process on the future.”

No10 officials also repeatedly refused to rule it out. 

What does it mean for the prospect of a Final Say referendum?

Parliament’s ongoing failure to approve any withdrawal plan makes the prospect of a fresh referendum more likely.

Supporters of a Final Say vote believe it is most likely to happen once all of the other options have been exhausted. With the Commons still deadlocked, that is looking like an increasing possibility.

A motion calling for a referendum on any Brexit deal passed by parliament received more votes than any alternative during the first round of indicative votes this week. Its supporters hope it will get even more backing in the second round on Monday. 

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