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UK's May fights to keep control of Brexit process as crucial votes loom

Theresa May’s government will decide today whether her Brexit deal can pass a third vote in the House of Commons this week or whether to hold indicative votes on alternatives at the risk of losing control of events to Parliament.

Though there have long been calls from members of Parliament opposed to the prime minister’s deal or opposed to Brexit to be allowed such votes on different courses, the government has resisted them since it fears losing control of the parliamentary agenda. However, MPs are determined to have indicative votes, while the government has given a commitment for MPs to be to have their say on different Brexit ideas, likely to include no Brexit at all.

Any such vote would not be binding on the government, but would be difficult to ignore, too. It could be the case, for instance, that MPs would back a second referendum on Brexit, which would put pressure on the Prime Minister who has long-resisted such a move. However, this would also allow Theresa May to put pressure on those MPs in her own party who favor quitting the EU without a deal since it would raise the specter of the U.K. not leaving at all.

Today the U.K.’s biggest-selling newspaper, The Sun, called on the prime minister to quit whether or not she manages to get her deal through the Commons. Newspapers reported that a "Cabinet coup" was in the offing over the weekend, whereby the prime minister would step down to be replaced by a "caretaker" prime minister, though such a move was denied by those cabinet ministers named as potential replacements.

Third time lucky?

Tonight MPs will debate the next steps in Brexit, the most significant of which is the plan to hold indicative votes.

The prime minister indicated last week that she would only bring back her deal for MPs to vote on for a third time if she was confident it would pass, after being heavily defeated twice previously. However, it is possible that she may feel sufficiently confident to bring her deal to the Commons this week, on Tuesday, for a so-called "meaningful vote."

European Union leaders approved a two-part delay to Brexit last week. If the prime minister’s deal finally wins approval in the Commons then the U.K. will leave the EU on May 22. However, if the deals fails to win support from MPs then Parliament will have to decide before April 12 whether to quit the EU without a deal or to hold EU elections – which is likely to lead to a much longer delay.

If the prime minister does bring her deal back to the Commons and it is defeated again then on Wednesday the indicative votes on other Brexit options could be held. It is not yet clear whether MPs will be given a free vote on this – i.e. not told by their parties how to vote – or not.

Second referendum

The options presented to them are likely to include: a second referendum on Brexit; revoking Article 50, the legal basis for the U.K. exit from the bloc; or various "softer" versions of Brexit which would see the U.K. remain part of some aspects of the EU. The chances of a majority of MPs favoring one option over another are remote, however.

However, the prime minister may choose to bring her deal back to the Commons on Thursday, the day after indicative votes had been held. The government might calculate that MPs in favor of a hard line or even no-deal Brexit might then realize that the alternative is either a softer version of Brexit, with the U.K. remaining part of the EU in some form, or no Brexit at all.

The U.K. was due to quit the bloc on March 29 and that remains the case until there has been a change in the law which is likely to be effected by using a Statutory Instrument, which allows for the change without Parliament having to pass a new Act. It should be a formality for this to be passed by Parliament.

To complicate matters for the government, John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, has said he would not allow a third vote on the government’s deal unless the deal is now significantly different to the deal which has already been defeated twice by MPs. It is not yet clear how the government would address this issue, but there have been suggestions that MPs could vote to suspend the rule Bercow invoked to block another vote, for instance.

The European Union said today that it is "increasingly likely" that the U.K. will leave the EU without a deal on April 12.