House of Commons votes 391-242 against divorce deal, plunging the U.K. into further uncertainty days before the split from E.U.
British M.P.s resoundingly rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal for a second time on Tuesday, plunging the country into further uncertainty just 17 days before it is due to split from the European Union.
The House of Commons voted 391-242 against the divorce deal, even after May secured further guarantees from Brussels over its most controversial elements.
The move risks unleashing economic chaos, as Britain is scheduled to end ties with its biggest trade partner after 46 years on March 29, no matter what.
Appearing before M.P.s in a voice half-breaking due to a cold, May defiantly vowed to fight on, saying she “profoundly” rejected the outcome. “The deal we’ve negotiated is the best and indeed the only deal,” she told the hushed chamber moments after the vote.
May promised to allow M.P.s to vote on a “no deal” option on Wednesday and, if that is rejected as expected, to decide on Thursday whether to ask the E.U. to delay Brexit. She said parliament faced “unenviable choices” if it voted for an extension, including revoking Brexit, holding a second referendum or leaving with another deal.
However, Eurosceptics believe the current deal is so bad that it is worth the risk of leaving with no plan.
The latest vote comes two years after Britain set the clock ticking on its departure from the E.U. following a highly divisive referendum in 2016.
Michel Barnier, the E.U. chief Brexit negotiator, said Brussels had nothing more to offer and must now brace for the possibility of a messy divorce. “The E.U. has done everything it can to help get the Withdrawal Agreement over the line,” Barnier tweeted. “The impasse can only be solved in the #UK. Our ‘no-deal’ preparations are now more important than ever before.” But a spokeswoman for European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said E.U. members would consider a “reasoned request” for a Brexit delay.
Germany’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that it was becoming increasingly likely that Britain would crash out of the bloc with no deal in place, accusing the country of “gambling carelessly with the well-being of citizens and the economy.”
“Unfortunately, I can only say that at the moment Germany has prepared for all the worst cases as well as possible,” Heiko Maas said.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labor party who has been trying to force snap elections, said May must now admit that her government’s overarching strategy had failed. “Their deal, their proposal, the one the prime minister’s put, is clearly dead,” Corbyn said, calling on her to negotiate for a softer Brexit to keep close economic ties with the E.U.
After M.P.s first rejected the 585-page Brexit deal in January, May promised changes to the hated backstop plan, which is intended to keep open the border with E.U. member Ireland.
She announced she had secured the promised “legally binding changes” to the backstop—which would keep Britain in the E.U.’s customs union if and until a new way was found to avoid frontier checks—after a last-minute trip to Strasbourg to meet E.U. leaders on the eve of the vote.
Hours later, however, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said the additions would not completely allay M.P.s fears of being trapped in the arrangement forever.
It did not take long for Brexit-supporting M.P.s in May’s Conservative party, and her allies, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), to declare their opposition. Some eurosceptics did change their mind, urging their colleagues not to risk everything.
Former minister Edward Leigh said: “You may not like the deal, it’s not perfect, but it delivers Brexit and let’s go for it.” But the margin of Tuesday’s defeat was not substantially smaller than the 230-vote thumping the plan suffered on Jan. 15.
The pound, which has been highly volatile since the 2016 referendum, initially rose after the vote but then sank against both the euro and dollar.
The backstop is designed to protect the peace process in Northern Ireland, which involved the removal of border checks with the Republic of Ireland. Brexit supporters wanted a unilateral way out of it, or a time limit to the arrangement, but the E.U. said this would make it worthless.
Leaders across Europe also united behind a message that this was the best and final offer Britain could expect. “There will be no third chance,” Juncker said after his talks on Monday with May.
If M.P.s vote against a no-deal exit on Wednesday, and want to postpone Brexit, the other 27 E.U. nations would need to agree. Their leaders will meet in Brussels for a summit on March 21-22. But any postponement may have to be short-lived.
Juncker on Monday said Brexit “should be complete before the European elections” at the end of May.