Lawmakers have voted to ask for more time over Brexit but seem no closer to agreeing on an outcome, writes Jill Lawless.
British lawmakers are trying to put the brakes on Brexit — at least for now. Parliament yesterday voted 413 to 202 to ask the European Union to delay the United Kingdom's exit from the bloc beyond the scheduled date of March 29 but lawmakers seem no closer to an agreed outcome.
Yesterday's vote came a day after MPs committed Britain to staying in the EU unless a divorce deal is ratified. With the approaching deadline intensifying fears that Britain could leave the bloc without a deal — a move that economists say could spark economic turmoil — Parliament voted to rule out the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. A day before that vote, MPs rejected for the second time the deal Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with EU leaders.
May is offering lawmakers a stark choice. Either support her deal in a third "meaningful vote" next week — dubbed MV3 — or face the prospect of a very long Brexit delay, which could stretch far into the future, perhaps for a year or more.
Even though MPs voted yesterday to ask for more time, the final say on whether Britain gets a delay rests with the leaders of the 27 remaining EU nations.
Here's a look at what might happen next:
Delay, delay, delay
After a series of parliamentary defeats, British Prime Minister Theresa May grudgingly gave lawmakers a chance to delay Brexit. This option proved popular, since politicians on both sides of the Brexit debate fear that time is running out to secure an orderly withdrawal by March 29.
May wants to get an extension until June 30 — but only if she can get Parliament to back her Brexit deal in a third vote by March 20. May's proposed Brexit deal has been defeated twice already by lawmakers.
If it is defeated again, May says Britain will have to seek a long extension, with the risk that opponents of Brexit will use that time to soften the terms of departure or even overturn Britain's decision to leave.
What's the EU's part in this?
A Brexit extension requires approval from all 27 remaining EU member countries. They have an opportunity to grant such a request at a March 21-22 summit in Brussels.
But the rest of the EU is reluctant to postpone Brexit beyond the May 23-26 election for the EU's legislature. The UK won't be represented in the European Parliament after it quits the EU; its seats already have been given to other countries to fill in the May election.
The bloc may be open to a long delay, however, to allow Britain to radically change course. European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted yesterday he will appeal to EU leaders "to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus about it".
No clear route out of Britain's political crisis
Parliament's votes this week won't end Britain's Brexit crisis.
Both lawmakers and the public remain split between backers of a clean break from the EU and those who favour continuing a close relationship, either through a post-Brexit trade deal or by reversing the June 2016 decision to leave.
May is unwilling to abandon her hard-won divorce deal with the EU, which sets out the terms of Britain's withdrawal and the outline of future relations with the bloc.
Her Conservative Government is holding talks with its Northern Irish political allies and pro-Brexit backbench lawmakers to see if they will abandon their opposition to a deal they fear keeps Britain too closely tied to the bloc.
If May's Brexit deal is defeated in a vote next week, the Government says lawmakers will get to vote on several different options for Brexit to see if there is a majority for any of them.
Opposition politicians think the only way forward is an early election that could rearrange Parliament and break the political deadlock. May has ruled that out, but could come to see it as her only option.
And anti-Brexit campaigners haven't abandoned the idea of a new referendum on remaining in the EU. There's currently no majority for that in Parliament.
A motion calling for a second referendum was defeated by a thumping 334-85 vote yesterday.
However, the political calculus could change if the paralysis drags on.
The opposition Labour Party has said it would support a second referendum if other options were exhausted.
Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said after yesterday's votes that a new Brexit referendum might offer a realistic way to break the deadlock.
Trump: I told May what to do
US President Donald Trump has sharply criticised Britain's handling of negotiations over leaving the European Union, saying the talks have been bungled and that the debate was dividing the country.
"I'm surprised at how badly it's all gone from the standpoint of a negotiation," he said.
Trump, who holds himself up as a master dealmaker, said he had given British Prime Minister Theresa May his ideas on how she could negotiate a successful deal for leaving the 28-member group of nations. But "she didn't listen to that and that's fine".
"I mean she's got to do what she's got to do," he said at the White House as he welcomed Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar for an early St Patrick's Day celebration.
"I think it could have been negotiated in a different manner, frankly," Trump said. "I hate to see it being, everything being ripped apart right now."
Trump said he and Varadkar discussed the issue during their Oval Office meeting. Varadkar opposes Britain's EU exit and expressed concern about how such a move would affect Northern Ireland.
"We talked about Brexit, something that's turning out to be a little more complex than they thought it would be," Trump said at an annual Capitol Hill luncheon for the Irish hosted by the House speaker. "But it'll all work out. Everything does. One way or the other, it's going to work out."