British lawmakers have gone on record saying they don’t want the U.K. to leave the European Union without a divorce agreement in place, increasing the odds that Brexit won’t take place as planned at the end of the month.
With the approaching deadline intensifying fears that economic and personal turmoil might follow a “no-deal” withdrawal by Britain, Parliament voted 321-278 Wednesday to rule out the possibility. However, Prime Minister Theresa May and the European Union noted the decision wasn’t legally binding. She offered the House of Commons a chance to try to stop the countdown to a March 29 departure.
A look at what might happen:
DELAY, DELAY, DELAY
Now that the House of Commons gave leaving the EU without an agreement a thumbs down, it is scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to ask the EU to delay Brexit by up to three months. This option is likely to prove popular, since politicians on both sides of the Brexit debate fear time is running out to secure an orderly withdrawal by March 29.
Extending the timeframe for Brexit 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 late May elections for the EU’s legislature. The U.K. 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 elections.
French President Emmanuel Macron, one of the EU’s strongest supporters, said Wednesday that a request for a postponement would be considered, but not granted automatically. Macron said the British government has “to explain to us what the point of it is, and in particular whether it adds anything.”
Whatever Parliament decides this week, it 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 favor continuing a close relationship, either through a post-Brexit trade deal or by reversing the June 2016 decision to leave.
May also is unwilling to abandon her hard-won deal with the EU on Britain’s withdrawal and future relationship with the bloc. Parliament voted it down twice, and May might try to put it to a third vote. She told lawmakers after the passed the non-binding motion rejecting a no-deal Brexit they are down to two choices: approving a withdrawal agreement in coming days and asking the EU for a short delay or requesting a “much longer” extension in hopes of negotiating a new arrangement.
The prime minister warned that a long extension would mean Britain would have to take part in the European elections. May said the House of Commons had to “face up” to the consequences of its decisions. Some think the only way forward is a snap election that could rearrange the forces in 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. The government opposes the idea, which at the moment also lacks majority support in Parliament.
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.