U.K. Speaker clears way for 3rd vote on Brexit deal Friday

The Speaker of Britain's House of Commons has cleared the path for lawmakers to debate and vote on the EU withdrawal agreement for a third time on Friday.

John Bercow set out requirement that the deal had to be substantially different to put to 3rd vote

Speaker of the House John Bercow has ruled a vote can go ahead tomorrow on the government's EU withdrawal agreement. (Reuters)

The Speaker of the British House of Commons has cleared the path for lawmakers to debate and vote on the EU withdrawal agreement on Friday. It will be their third vote on the deal, after rejecting it twice. 

Parliament will vote on the 585-page withdrawal agreement, which sets out the terms of Britain's departure from the European Union. But lawmakers will not be voting on a shorter declaration on future ties that is also part of the divorce deal between the U.K. and the EU.

The Speaker ruled the removal of the political declaration from debate is an attempt to alter the deal enough to overcome a ban on asking lawmakers the same question thrice. 

"The motion is new, substantially different, and in conformity with the requirements of my ruling," said Bercow, who last week ruled the government could not bring its twice-defeated Brexit deal back for another vote unless it was changed.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she'd be willing to resign if her Brexit deal makes it through Parliament. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

If the withdrawal agreement is approved by 11 p.m. (7 p.m. ET), the EU has agreed to delay Britain's departure from the bloc until May 22.

If it is rejected, Britain has until April 12 to announce a new plan, or leave the bloc without a deal, risking severe disruption for people and businesses.

The leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom says Parliament should be able to secure a delay to Brexit to May 22 by approving the government's withdrawal agreement.

"I encourage all MPs to support it and ensure that we leave the EU on the 22nd of May, giving people and businesses the certainty they need," Leadsom said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May made a last ditch effort Wednesday to save her European Union withdrawal deal by promising to step down if the deal passed. She gained some new support but failed to win over lawmakers from Northern Ireland.

The EU has said the prime minister must secure approval for her deal by Friday if the U.K. is to be given an automatic delay of its departure date from the bloc until May 22.

May pledged Wednesday night that she would resign if her Brexit deal was approved, in hopes of blunting opposition from lawmakers in her Conservative Party who have criticized her leadership. May has been under mounting pressure to quit from pro-Brexit Conservatives, who accuse her of negotiating a bad divorce deal that leaves Britain too closely tied to the bloc after it leaves.

8 alternatives rejected

Some prominent opponents, including former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, quickly said they would back the agreement, but Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party said it remained opposed because of concern that the deal treats the region differently from other parts of the U.K.

The prime minister's resignation announcement came as lawmakers rejected eight alternatives to her deal after an unprecedented move to wrest control of the parliamentary agenda from the government in an attempt to find a plan that could break the Brexit deadlock.

A performer gestures near Parliament in central London on Wednesday. The results of Wednesday's votes underscored the divisions in Parliament over Brexit, but also pointed toward a potential compromise. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said the outcome of the indicative votes showed "there are no easy options here," as he urged lawmakers to support May's deal.

Divisions in Parliament

The results of Wednesday's "indicative votes" underscored the divisions in Parliament, and the country, over Brexit — but also pointed toward a potential compromise.

The idea of remaining in a customs union with the EU came closest to winning a majority, with 264 lawmakers voting for it and 272 voting against. The most popular option was the idea of holding a second referendum on any deal approved by Parliament, which was backed by 268 lawmakers, but opposed by 295.

Both ideas got more support than the 242 votes secured by May's deal earlier this month.

The plan is for the most popular ideas to move to a second vote Monday to find an option that can command a majority. Parliament would then instruct the government to negotiate it with the EU.

'No way to run a country'

May has said she will consider the outcome of the votes, although she has refused to be bound by the result.

Business groups expressed alarm at the continuing gridlock, which has left companies uncertain whether they will face tariffs, customs checks and other barriers to trade with the EU in just a couple of weeks.

"No one would run a business like this — and it is no way to run a country," said Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce.

A pro-Brexit supporter holds placards outside Parliament on Thursday. (Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)

He told politicians to stop "chasing rainbows" and "start making tough decisions, however personally or politically difficult they might be."

Labour Party legislator Margaret Beckett, who sponsored the second referendum proposal, said lawmakers who had been "wedded to particular proposals" now needed to compromise in the national interest.

"They are going to have to look over the abyss," she said.

With files from Reuters