Britain running out of Brexit options, May says after defeat

Pro-Brexit activists and anti-Brexit demonstrators outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster in London on Thursday. It is unclear if British Prime Minister Theresa May has the political capital left to try her deal a fourth time.
Pro-Brexit activists and anti-Brexit demonstrators outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster in London on Thursday. It is unclear if British Prime Minister Theresa May has the political capital left to try her deal a fourth time.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Crisis deepens after Parliament rejects British PM's Brexit deal for a third time; EU calls April 10 meeting

LONDON • Britain's MPs rejected a stripped-down version of Mrs Theresa May's twice-defeated Brexit divorce deal yesterday, foiling the Prime Minister's attempt to break the impasse over Britain's exit from the European Union (EU).

The vote, on the day the country was originally due to exit the EU, illustrates the depth of the three-year Brexit crisis that has left it uncertain how, when or even if Britain will ever leave.

Immediately after the result of the vote was announced, Mrs May said that the decision to reject her Brexit deal for a third time meant that Parliament was running out of options for how Britain should leave the EU.

"The implications of the House's decision are grave," she said after the withdrawal agreement was defeated by 344 votes to 286 in Parliament.

Mrs May said earlier the vote was the last opportunity to ensure Brexit would take place, and cautioned that if the deal failed, any further delay to Brexit would probably be a long one beyond April 12.

European Council President Donald Tusk said after Mrs May's deal was shunned thrice that EU leaders will meet on April 10 to discuss Britain's departure from the bloc.

"In view of the rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement by the House of Commons, I have decided to call a European Council on April 10," Mr Tusk, the summit chair, tweeted.

Yesterday, thousands of people opposed to Britain delaying its departure from the EU marched through central London.

Large groups gathered in bright sunshine outside Parliament waving Union Jack flags and chanting, "Out means out" and "Bye, Bye EU". Many held signs accusing Mrs May of treachery.

Now that the deal has been rejected again, Britain would either have to leave the EU on April 12 without a deal or come up with some interim plan, possibly a longer delay, by that date and then ask the EU to agree to it.

Lawmakers will try to forge a consensus themselves for some other Brexit strategy on Monday.

It is unclear if Mrs May has the political capital left to try her deal a fourth time.

If the government wins the vote, it believes it will have satisfied the conditions set by the EU in order to delay Britain's exit from the bloc until May 22.

However, the result will not meet the criteria in British law for the exit package to be formally ratified.

The EU's negotiator Michel Barnier said earlier that Britain will need to tell the EU what it wants to do on Brexit by April 12 if Parliament failed yesterday to back the EU withdrawal treaty.

In a speech in Warsaw, Mr Barnier made clear that a deadline set by EU leaders last week for British PM May to pass the withdrawal agreement expired at the end of the day.

If it is missed, leaders have told Britain it has until April 12 to propose some other strategy.

The prospect of Britain leaving without a deal to smooth the withdrawal was not the EU's preferred option, Mr Barnier said, but it was becoming more likely.

Mrs May told her Conservative lawmakers on Wednesday that she will resign if her withdrawal deal is agreed, allowing a new leader to negotiate the country's future relationship with the EU.

But her concession has made it harder for opposition lawmakers to back the deal, said opposition Labour lawmaker Lisa Nandy.

"We don't know who is going to be prime minister at that stage or what sort of commitments they will expect to be bound by, so she has made it far more difficult for Labour MPs to support this deal, to be perfectly honest," Ms Nandy told Sky News.

REUTERS, DPA

SEE OPINION: The UK and the EU: It's complicated

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2019, with the headline 'Britain running out of Brexit options, May says after defeat'. Print Edition | Subscribe