With the clock counting down to Britain’s scheduled departure from the European Union, UK legislators have voted down embattled Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal for a second time this year.
A second so-called “meaningful vote” on Tuesday ended with another heavy defeat for the prime minister, with 391 MPs voting against and 242 supporting the deal.
The last time May put the agreement to parliament, in January, she again suffered a major defeat as the deal agreed with the EU over 18 months of painstaking negotiations was defeated by a margin of 230. This time it was 149.
Tuesday’s vote came just 24 hours after May made a last-minute dash to Strasbourg for a meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission.
Two documents were published as a result of the meeting, which May said would deliver the legally-binding changes to the withdrawal agreement MPs had asked for. But it soon became clear that those changes would not be enough to win the vote.
What happens now? May promised to hold two more votes in the coming days. The first, on Wednesday, will see MPs decide on whether to rule out a no-deal Brexit, 16 days before the UK’s scheduled departure from the bloc on March 29.
If legislators opt against departing without an agreement on future relations, the government will hold another vote the following day on whether to request an extension to Article 50 – the exit clause in the EU’s constitution – from Brussels in a bid to buy more time as it seeks to strike a different divorce deal. Such an extension could be short-term or long-term.
The latter however, would mean the UK taking part in the European Parliament elections on May 23-26, a scenario the prime minister wants to avoid. A longer extension could also create the momentum for a second referendum campaign, particularly now that the main opposition Labour party supports it.