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May's Brexit resignation pledge fails to garner MPs' support

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If the UK Parliament approves Mrs May's withdrawal deal this week, Britain would leave the EU on May 22. If it doesn't, Britain will by Apr 12 have to either present a new plan to the EU, request a longer delay, or exit without a deal altogether.

London

THE chaotic UK Parliament's Brexit cauldron is boiling over and the European Union (EU) is already preparing for a no-deal crash out.

In scarcely believable scenes, Prime Minister Theresa May offered to resign if MPs vote for her compromise withdrawal agreement with the EU. In the meantime, Parliament rejected all eight alternative options to her deal.

The hope of a disenchanted public, business people, workers and local and foreign investors is that the chaotic, uncompromising parliament would approve Mrs May's deal this week. In that event, Britain would leave the EU on May 22, if it doesn't, Britain will by Apr 12 have to either present a new plan to the EU, request a longer delay, or exit without a deal.

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Despite frantic efforts to get her withdrawal deal passed, the numbers are stacked against her. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has firmly rejected her deal as its MPs fear that the backstop insurance plan could potentially de-unify Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom. Some 20 to 30 Brexit wing MPs also indicated that they would follow the DUP and not vote for the exit agreement.

Oliver Letwin, a former cabinet minister and adviser of Margaret Thatcher who proposed a series of indicative parliamentary votes in the Commons to end the deadlock, warned that the legal default was "no deal". He said that he was disappointed that all eight alternative Brexit options, put before the Commons, were rejected.

Albeit defeated, the option that received the most votes was that the UK remains in the EU's customs union after Brexit. Another option that received relatively high support from a "Remain"-leaning parliament was for the people to choose between Mrs May's deal or to remain in the EU. Interestingly, "Common Market 2.0", close to Norway's European Free Trade Agreement, was voted down by a sizeable margin and the same applied to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn's option.

An embarrassed Mr Letwin claimed that he did not expect the options to receive majority votes. He added that MPs would vote on streamlined Brexit proposals on Monday but if their options and Mrs May's deal don't pass for the third time, the default of a no-deal Brexit becomes increasingly likely.

Markets were remarkably sanguine, with sterling slightly lower and the FTSE 100 index up. In contrast, the vast majority of business people are alarmed.

Adam Marshall, who heads the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC), which represents 53 accredited chambers from across the country, warned that direct investment in the UK was falling. Several companies were setting up operations abroad. At the BCC's annual conference on Thursday, Mr Marshall said that no-deal "could affect the well-being and the jobs of many people" and cause "mass disruption to businesses and communities".

Politicians have focused on "tactics, not strategy" and "politics, not prosperity", he said. "No one would run a business like this, and it is no way to run a country."

The EU has stated that it could extend Brexit for a lengthy time. But the proviso is that the 27 leaders must know what the UK Parliament wants and at the moment, they do not know.

European Council President Donald Tusk said that the EU "should be open to a long extension, if the UK wishes to rethink its strategy".

"Six million people signed the petition (to revoke Brexit), one million marched. They may not feel sufficiently represented by the UK Parliament but they must feel represented by you. Because they are European," he said.

"I ask everyone in this room to back the deal so we can complete our historic duty - to deliver on the decision of the British people and leave the EU with a smooth and orderly exit," Mrs May told Tory MPs.

"I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party," she added.

Whether her deal is accepted or not, Mrs May has given the signal for a leadership election to begin. Bookies' odds rate Environment Secretary Michael Gove and former foreign secretary Boris Johnson as the two with the best chance.