British MPs overwhelmingly rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal for a second time on Tuesday, throwing the country’s political and economic future into confusion with just 17 days before it is due to exit 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 raises the specter of economic chaos, as Britain is scheduled to cut ties with its largest trade partner on March 29 after 46 years, no matter what.
With her voice half-breaking due to a cold, May defiantly vowed to fight on, telling MPs she “profoundly” rejected the outcome.
“The deal we’ve negotiated is the best and indeed the only deal,” the beleaguered prime minister told the hushed chamber moments after the vote.
May promised to allow MPs to vote on a “no deal” option on Wednesday and if that is rejected as expected, to decide on Thursday whether to ask the EU 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 without a plan in place.
The latest vote comes two years after Britain set the clock ticking on its disengagement from the EU following an extremely divisive 2016 referendum.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said Brussels had nothing more to offer and must now brace itself for what could be a nasty divorce.
“The EU 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.”
The EU has done everything it can to help get the Withdrawal Agreement over the line. The impasse can only be solved in the #UK. Our “no-deal” preparations are now more important than ever before.
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) March 12, 2019
But a spokeswoman for European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said EU members would be willing to consider a “reasoned request” for a Brexit delay.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the main opposition Labour party who has been pushing for snap elections, said May must now admit that her government’s strategy had failed.
“Their deal, their proposal, the one the prime minister’s put, is clearly dead,” Corbyn said, calling on the prime minister to negotiate for a softer Brexit to maintain close economic ties with the bloc.
– with reporting by Agence France-Presse