Prime Minister Theresa May puts a stripped-down version of her Brexit divorce deal to a vote in Parliament on Friday in an attempt to break the impasse over the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.
The vote, on the day the country was originally due to exit the European Union, illustrates the depth of the three-year Brexit crisis that has left it uncertain how, when or even if it will ever leave.
Lawmakers will vote on May’s 585-page EU Withdrawal Agreement at a special sitting but not on the 26-page Political Declaration for future relations she negotiated at the same time, a maneuver which led to confusion among lawmakers.
As May tries to salvage its twice-defeated exit deal, thousands of people opposed to delaying Brexit are expected to protest in central London with a “Brexit Betrayal” march led by prominent Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage ending outside Parliament.
Amid the chaos, May agreed with the EU to delay Brexit from the originally planned March 29 until April 12, with a further delay until May 22 on offer if May could get her divorce package ratified by lawmakers this week.
Britain’s Attorney General Geoffrey Cox urged lawmakers in the House of Commons on Friday morning to approve the government’s EU withdrawal agreement, saying it was lawmakers’ last chance to ensure that Brexit will be delayed until May 22.
“This is therefore the last opportunity to take advantage of our legal right,” said Cox, citing conclusions of a European Council summit at which the EU agreed to a delay, conditional on the withdrawal agreement being approved this week.
Cox was opening a debate that is expected to conclude with a vote at around 2:30 local time (10:30 ET).
May on Wednesday pledged to quit if her deal was passed but even that failed to immediately win over many Brexit supporters in her party. They say her deal leaves the United Kingdom tied far too close to the EU.
But the pledge has made it harder for opposition lawmakers to back the deal, Labour lawmaker Lisa Nandy said on Friday.
“We don’t know who is going to be prime minister at that stage or what sort of commitments they will expect to be bound by, so she has made it far more difficult for Labour MPs to support this deal to be perfectly honest,” Labour’s Nandy told Sky News.
The uncertainty surrounding Brexit, the United Kingdom’s most significant political and economic move since the Second World War, has left allies and investors aghast.
Liam Fox, Britain’s secretary of state for international trade, says the latest push to pass the bill marks the ‘last chance we have to vote for Brexit as we understood it.’ (Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press)
Opponents fear Brexit will make Britain poorer and divide the West as it grapples with both the unconventional U.S. presidency of Donald Trump and growing assertiveness from Russia and China.
Supporters of Brexit say while the divorce might bring some short-term instability, in the longer term it will allow the United Kingdom to thrive if cut free from what they cast as a doomed attempt in European unity.
If the government wins the vote, it believes it will have satisfied the conditions set by the EU in order to delay Britain’s exit from the bloc until May 22. These conditions were set out at a European Council summit on March 21.
However, the result will not meet the criteria in British law for the exit package to be formally ratified. The government acknowledges this in its motion.
So to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, the government is required to have parliamentary approval for both the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on future relations. This would therefore require another vote.