Theresa May is battling to get her Brexit Withdrawal Agreement backed by the Commons on the day that was scheduled to see Britain quit the EU.
MPs will vote again this afternoon on half of the deal in a bid to extend the leave date to May 22. The Prime Minister has split the legally binding treaty segment of her Brexit deal from the declaration on future relations with the EU.
However, she still faces an uphill struggle as key Government allies the DUP have joined with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in saying they would vote against the move. This is despite Mrs May promising to quit as leader if her deal goes through.
If the PM cannot get it over the line, the EU has said it needs to come back with something new or risk crashing out without a deal on April 12.
Speaker John Bercow had previously blocked a third attempt by Mrs May to pass her Withdrawal Agreement, citing a 400-year law that prevents the same motion coming back repeatedly.
By splitting her bill into two halves, she has done that and Mr Bercow said it now complies with House of Commons rules. Labour disagree, saying voting on half of it represented a ‘blindfold Brexit.’
Mrs May’s last attempt failed by 149 votes, so she needs to win over 75 Conservative rebel MPs. She cannot rely on the DUP’s 10 politicians, who will not back her because of the Irish backstop issue that they argue will see Northern Ireland treated differently to the rest of the UK.
Mrs May is now hoping to persuade a number of Labour members that if she fails today, Brexit could face years of delay. She has got the backing of a number of hardline Brexiteers in her own party, who say they will back her now she has pledged to stand down.
However, a number of members of the European Research Group (ERG) have refused to budge. If the vote goes in favour of Mrs May today, she will move to a third meaningful vote.
If the motion on the Withdrawal Agreement is rejected by MPs, the UK will have until April 12 to ask for a further extension to Brexit negotiations – which would require voters to choose new MEPs – or leave the EU without a deal.
Some people within Parliament say that means a general election would be increasingly likely to break the deadlock – or a softer version of Brexit in the form of a customs union with the EU could be considered.
Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood said: ‘There are some big challenges here. ‘It’s a key day and probably the last opportunity to get this particular motion across.’
The vote comes on the day that pro-Brexit protesters are set to gather outside Parliament to mark what had been scheduled to be the UK’s exit date from the EU.