Parliament on Thursday narrowly rejected a proposal under which MPs would have seized control of the Brexit process by rapidly gaining the ability to vote on alternative plans to Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement.
MPs voted by 314 to 312 against a parliamentary amendment that would have enabled the House of Commons to hold “indicative votes” on different Brexit options if it rejects the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement for a third time next week.
The government had ordered its MPs to vote against the amendment proposed by Labour’s Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper.
Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement has been emphatically rejected twice by the Commons, and she is now trying to woo Eurosceptic MPs who have opposed it ahead of a third “meaningful vote” expected on Tuesday.
MPs are due to vote later on Thursday on a parliamentary motion by Mrs May proposing that Brexit should be delayed from March 29 until June 30 if her deal is approved by the Commons by Wednesday next week.
The motion says if MPs do not endorse the deal by then, the delay to Brexit would be longer, and require the UK to hold elections to the European Parliament in May.
Any delay would be secured by the government requesting an extension to Article 50, the EU process under which Britain is supposed to leave the bloc on March 29.
Mrs May had earlier on Thursday bowed to pressure from some of her ministers, including chancellor Philip Hammond, to hold indicative votes on different Brexit options, and the government proposed a timetable under which this would happen in late March or early April.
The amendment involving Mr Benn and Ms Cooper would have enabled the votes to happen sooner. MPs would have debated the matter on Wednesday.
By holding votes on alternative plans to Mrs May’s deal, ranging from a soft Brexit involving a customs union to a second referendum, it should be possible to see if there is a majority for anything in parliament.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was struggling to contain a row after the opposition party decided to abstain on a separate amendment calling for a second Brexit referendum that was put forward by Sarah Wollaston, a member of the Independent Group of pro-EU MPs.
Labour committed last month to backing a second plebiscite, but many of the party’s MPs suspect Mr Corbyn, a Eurosceptic, is lukewarm about another referendum.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the People’s Vote, the cross party campaign for a Brexit referendum, was clear this was not the right time to press the issue in parliament.
Ms Wollaston’s amendment was rejected by 334 votes to 85.