MPs in Britain on Friday rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s EU divorce deal for a third time, opening the way for a long delay to Brexit — or a chaotic “no deal” withdrawal in two weeks.
The pound sank as lawmakers defied May’s plea to end the deadlock that has plunged Britain into a deep political crisis, defeating her withdrawal agreement by 344 votes to 286.
It is yet another blow to a prime minister who has all but lost control of her government and the Brexit process — particularly after she offered to quit if MPs backed the deal.
Britain had been due to leave the EU on Friday, the long-heralded March 29 “Independence Day”, but faced with deadlock in parliament, May asked European leaders last week for a little more time.
She now faces having to return in the coming days to explain what happens next, after EU Council President Donald Tusk immediately called a Brussels summit for April 10.
The EU has set a deadline for April 12 for a decision, with two likely options: Britain leaves with no deal at all, or agrees a lengthy extension to allow time for a new approach.
May has said it would be “unacceptable” to ask voters to take part in forthcoming European Parliament elections, three years after they voted in a 2016 referendum to leave the EU, a decision that has sharply divided the country.
“No deal” remains the default legal option, and the European Commission said after the vote that this remained the “likely scenario”.
However, MPs have repeatedly voted against this, fearing catastrophe if Britain severs ties with its closest trading partner with no plan in place.
“I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House,” May said after the vote, which she described as a “matter of profound regret”.
“The implications of the House’s decision are grave,” she said, adding: “This government will continue to press the case for the orderly Brexit that the result of the referendum demands.”
The failure by parliament to agree the terms of its exit from European Union has left Britain in limbo, with business leaders and trade unions warning of a “national emergency”.
Voters are divided, many of them anxious and angry, and May blames MPs — but they in turn accuse her of refusing to countenance any alternative to her unpopular deal.
“It is clear that this House does not support the deal. This deal now has to change. There has to be an alternative found,” opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said.
“And if the prime minister can’t accept that then she must go, not at an indeterminate date in the future but now.”
Tired of waiting, MPs this week gave themselves unprecedented powers to vote on a range of options for Britain’s future relationship with the EU.