British Prime Minister Theresa May‘s second attempt to push through a Brexit deal only weeks before Britain is due to withdraw from the EU failed late Tuesday as the revised Withdrawal Agreement was defeated by a 391 to 242 vote.
“If this vote is not passed tonight, if this deal is not passed, then Brexit could be lost,” May told MPs before the vote. However, both hardline Brexit supporters and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) would not consent to the Withdrawal Agreement with a legally binding Irish backstop.
Immediately after the vote, May offered a free vote to the Conservative party on whether the house wants to leave the UK without a deal.
May specified that if the Commons voted to leave without a deal that she is ready to ask for an extension of Article 50 – the mechanism that allows an EU member to quit the bloc – but clarified that the UK must then present a proposal that addresses what the UK intends to do with that time.
“Their deal, their proposal, the one the prime minister’s put on the table is clearly dead,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the parliament.
Corbyn reminded the House of Commons that Labour had tabled a proposal that could secure an extension to the 29 March withdrawal deadline, one that would be coupled with a so-called Norway option for the UK which would it continue as a member of the European Economic Area and the European Free Trade Association which gives it full access to the EU single market.
“In reality, the joint instrument and the joint statement are nothing but legal gymnastics to try to paper over the cracks. It made the division in the House of Commons a meaningful vote on meaningless changes,” said Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson, who added that the latest result should not have come as a surprise.
Speaking from Brussels, an EU Commission spokesperson said that the bloc regrets the outcome of tonight’s vote and is “disappointed” that the UK government has been unable to ensure a majority for the Withdrawal Agreement.
“From the EU’s side, we have done all that is possible to help the Prime Minister get the deal – which she negotiated – ratified.” The spokesperson added “there is no more we can do”, given the additional assurances provided by the EU in December, January, and on Monday. “If there is a solution to the current impasse it has to be found in London”.
“The EU continues to stand by the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, which serves to prevent a hard border in Ireland and preserve the integrity of the single market unless, and until, alternative arrangements can be found,” said the EU spokesperson. “With only 17 days left to 29 March, today’s result has significantly increased the likelihood of a “no-deal” Brexit or the possibility of a “no-Brexit”. For our part, the EU will continue its no-deal preparations and ensure that we are prepared for all scenarios”.
Should the UK ask for an extension, the EU27 will be ready to consider the option and grant a delay if decided by a unanimous vote.