The plan for parliamentary “indicative” votes on Brexit alternatives was approved over the prime minister’s objections on Monday, in another of a series of rebukes to her leadership. Ms. May has stubbornly resisted exploring alternatives to her plan because she fears splitting her Conservative Party, which contains a hard-line minority that rejects her plan as well as the alternatives. Rather than face down the extremists, who would plunge Britain over the cliff of a “no-deal” Brexit, Ms. May still hopes to persuade them to back her formula — perhaps by offering to resign if they do.
On Tuesday, it still looked unlikely that Ms. May would succeed — and time runs out at the end of this week. According to a new timetable dictated by the E.U., if Ms. May’s plan is not approved by then, Britain will have until April 12 to come up with an alternative; if it does not, it will be forced out of the union that day. That would cause massive disruption on both sides of the English Channel. The Bank of England has said it could trigger the worst recession since the 1920s. Though Parliament has already voted against it, Ms. May continues to prefer that no-deal option to a centrist alternative.
Not surprisingly, more sensible members of her party have been defecting. On Wednesday, they will help lead a parliamentary debate on alternatives, with nonbinding votes for and against them. These could include arrangements that leave Britain inside the E.U.’s customs union and perhaps also its single market — a relationship that several European countries, including Norway, already have. The members of Parliament could also consider canceling Brexit — an option supported by more than 5 million Britons via an online petition — and holding a new referendum, a cause that attracted an estimated 1 million demonstrators to London on Saturday.
It’s possible that none of the alternatives will command a majority, in which case another referendum or a general election, accompanied by a request to Brussels for a further delay, would be the best course. But if Parliament can agree on a centrist plan that respects the 2016 vote in favor of leaving the E.U., Ms. May would be wise to embrace it. If she continues to insist on her scheme or a no-deal crash-out, she will not only damage Britain’s economic future; she will also invite an even greater political upheaval.