UK lawmakers seize Brexit agenda in bid to break deadlock

LONDON — British lawmakers seized a measure of control over the stalled Brexit process from Prime Minister Theresa May’s foundering government Monday, setting up a series of votes that could dramatically alter the course of the U.K.’s departure from the European Union.

The move came after May conceded that Parliament would defeat her twice-rejected divorce deal with the EU again if she put it to a third vote.

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With Brexit delayed and the new departure date up in the air, the House of Commons voted to give itself temporary control of the parliamentary timetable starting on Wednesday so lawmakers can vote on alternatives to May’s withdrawal deal. The government usually controls the scheduling of votes in Parliament.

Lawmakers who backed Monday’s motion, which passed 329-302, hope the planned “indicative votes” will narrow the options down to one that can secure majority support. Possible options include a “soft Brexit” that maintains close economic ties with the EU or scrapping Britain’s departure altogether.

Three government ministers quit their posts so they could back the motion. Richard Harrington, who resigned as a junior business minister, accused the government of “playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of people in this country” by failing to resolve Britain’s Brexit impasse.

The government said it was disappointed by the vote, claiming it “upends the balance between our democratic institutions and sets a dangerous, unpredictable precedent for the future.”

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But it also conceded that the new votes might be a way to break the months-long Brexit gridlock. May said she would “engage constructively” with the results of the process.

The move raises the chances that Britain will tack toward a softer Brexit, and is likely to be welcomed by the EU. Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, tweet that it was an “opportunity to build a cross-party cooperation leading to an enhanced political declaration &a closer future relationship!”

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