British lawmakers on Wednesday took another step towards delaying Brexit, when Parliament voted to reject the U.K. leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement – just weeks before the country is scheduled to do exactly that.
The vote, on an amendment to reject a “no-deal” Brexit under any circumstance, passed twice – initially by just four votes – in chaotic scenes spanning 30 minutes in the chamber. The two quickfire defeats for the Conservative-led government come just a day after Parliament overwhelmingly voted down Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal for a second time, only two weeks before the U.K. is due to leave the bloc on March 29.
The defeat is yet another blow for May, who has seen defeat after defeat for her approach to Brexit, plunging Britain into an even deeper political crisis – with no immediate end in sight. The amendment that passed changed the language of a government motion that May had announced a day earlier that would have expressed disapproval of 'no-deal Brexit" but the language in the so-called Spelman Amendment went a step further and rules it out entirely.
Wednesday’s motion is entirely symbolic and does not change the situation on the ground that Britain will leave the E.U. on March 29 without a deal unless an extension to its departure is secured, or May’s withdrawal agreement is approved by lawmakers. But May had promised that it will lead to a vote on Thursday, in which lawmakers will vote on a motion to request that Britain’s depature be extended until June – but it is far from clear that the E.U. will grant such a request.
“The House has today provided a clear majority against leaving without a deal, however I will repeat what I have said before, these are about the choices this House faces," May told the Commons after the vote to howls of disapproval from opposition benches. “The legal default in U.K. and E.U. law remains that U.K. will leave without a deal unless something else is agreed.”
“The onus is now on everyone of us in this House to find out what that is,” she said, before angrily urging the House to “face up to the consequences of the decisions it has taken.”
In the absence of a delay or a withdrawal agreement, Britain is scheduled to leave the bloc without a deal and revert to World Trade Organization (WTO) terms. Business groups and pro-E.U. politicians, including some in May’s government, have said that a “no deal” Brexit would be catastrophic, leading to chaos at ports and shortages across the country. Some pro-Brexit lawmakers have called that such fears are overblown and part of what they have dubbed “Project Fear.”
But on Wednesday, May’s opponents declared her to be responsible for Britain’s political uncertainty and said that she had lost the ability to lead the country through the choppy waters ahead. Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said after the vote that a Brexit delay was now “inevitable” and that “Parliament must now take control of the situation.”