UK's Brexit options include customs union, no deal and delay

By JILL LAWLESSMarketsAssociated Press

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Anti Brexit protesters hold onto their flags and placards as they demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Tuesday, March 26, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May's government says Parliament's decision to take control of the stalled process of leaving the European Union underscores the need for lawmakers to approve her twice-defeated deal. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Britain's Brexit logjam has become a pileup. Lawmakers have voted, and the results are a mess. They don't want Prime Minister Theresa May's EU divorce deal, don't want to leave without a deal, and don't want any of the other options on offer.

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The country faces a deadline of April 12 to present the European Union with a new plan or crash out of the bloc.

A look at the most likely options:

MAY'S DEAL

After almost two years of negotiations, Britain and the EU struck a divorce deal in November, laying out the terms of Britain's departure from the bloc and giving a rough outline of future relations.

It needs to be ratified by the British and European Parliaments — and U.K. lawmakers have rejected it twice by huge margins, first in January and then in March.

The deal is a compromise that has pleased almost no one. Pro-Brexit lawmakers think it keeps Britain too closely tied to EU rules. Pro-EU legislators argue it is worse than the U.K.'s current status as an EU member.

May still wants to try again, and has called a new Brexit debate in Parliament for Friday, though it has not confirmed whether it will include another vote on the deal.

In a dramatic bid to win over opponents, May promised to quit if her deal passes and Britain leaves the EU. That has led some pro-Brexit lawmakers to say they will support the agreement, but the key Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland remains opposed.

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CUSTOMS UNION

With May's deal stuck, Parliament took control of the Brexit process Wednesday to hold a series of "indicative votes" on possible alternatives, from quitting the EU without a deal to canceling the decision to leave.

The exercise did not provide clarity — all eight options on offer were defeated. But it did hint at a potential compromise. The measure that came closest to a majority, defeated by 272 votes to 264, called for Britain to remain in a customs union with the EU after it leaves.

May has always ruled that out, because sticking to EU trade rules would limit Britain's ability to forge new trade deals around the world.

But it would ensure U.K. businesses can continue to trade with the EU, and would solve many of the problems that bedevil May's deal. In particular it would remove the need for customs posts and border checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland

There's a good chance a withdrawal agreement that included a customs union pledge would be approved by Parliament, and welcomed by the EU.

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NEW REFERENDUM

The other option with significant support called for any deal to be put to public vote in a "confirmatory referendum." The idea was backed by 268 lawmakers and opposed by 295, and has significant support from opposition parties, plus some members of the Conservatives.

The government has ruled out holding another referendum on Britain's EU membership, but could change its mind if there appeared no other way to pass its Brexit deal.

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NO DEAL OR LONG DELAY

Parliament has voted repeatedly to rule out a no-deal Brexit — but it remains the default position unless a deal is approved, Brexit is canceled or the EU grants Britain another extension.

While a minority of lawmakers would welcome what they call a "clean Brexit," most politicians, economists and business groups think it would be disastrous.

The alternative to 'no-deal' is to delay Brexit for at least several months while Britain sorts out the mess. The EU is frustrated with the impasse, and says it will only grant another postponement if Britain makes up its mind on a new course before April 12.

The bloc is reluctant to have a departing Britain participate in May 23-26 European parliament elections, as it would have to do if Brexit is delayed. But EU Council President Donald Tusk has urged the bloc to give Britain the extension if it plans to change course.

A long delay also raises the chances of an early British election, which could rearrange Parliament and break the political deadlock.

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Follow AP's full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit