Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a defeat on her Brexit strategy on last Thursday which had undermined her pledge to European Union leaders to get her divorce deal approved if they grant her concessions.
In a show of muscle, hardline Brexit supporters in her Conservative Party decided to abstain, handing her an embarrassing, albeit symbolic, defeat as she tries to renegotiate her deal with the EU.
While it will not deter May from trying to secure changes on the most contentious issue of the deal – the Irish “backstop” – the vote does show that her pro-Brexit lawmakers are a major obstacle to passing any agreement.
May was absent from the House of Commons for the debate and the outcome of the vote, which deepened the sense of political crisis over Britain’s departure, more than two years after voters opted to leave the bloc by a margin of 52 percent to 48.
The crunch vote is now expected to come on Feb. 27, when May is due to return to parliament – and lawmakers who fear leaving without a deal could try to seize control of Britain’s departure from the EU.
The latest twist in the two-year negotiation to leave the EU underlines the rifts in parliament over how, or even whether, Britain should leave the bloc, its biggest political and trade policy shift in more than 40 years.
It increases the possibility of Britain leaving without a deal, a nightmare scenario for many businesses, but also of Brexit being delayed or potentially never happening at all.
May’s spokesman said she still believed parliament wanted her to keep pressing for changes to the Brexit deal: “The government will continue to pursue this with the EU to ensure we leave on time on 29th March.”
EU leaders, meanwhile, have repeatedly said there can be no substantive change to the legally binding withdrawal agreement containing the backstop, a guarantee that there can be no return of border controls between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.