March 12 (UPI) — British members of Parliament voted down Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan Tuesday less than three weeks before Britain is scheduled to formally depart the European Union.
MPs voted 391-242 against the plan, which underwent changes Monday night after May negotiated with EU leaders. Parliament rejected a similar deal by 230 votes in January.
Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29 — with an agreement, if it’s approved, or without a deal. May could also move to delay the exit until June. Parliament could also consider a second national referendum, effectively asking Britons again if they want to leave the 28-member bloc.
Parliament was expected to vote Wednesday on whether to push back the Brexit deadline or go forward without a deal on March 29.
Scottish National Party leader Ian Blackford said further negotiations should include a second referendum.
May traveled to Strasbourg, France, Monday to work out changes to the agreement with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. While some tweaks were made, Juncker did not agree fully to May’s central change, firm guarantees on the Ireland backstop — the main issue at the heart of lawmakers’ disapproval. The backstop is an insurance policy against a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland for trade purposes.
The changes came in the form of two documents — one allowing Britain to lodge a complaint to an independent arbitrator if it feels it becomes trapped on the backstop issue. The second includes a commitment by Britain and the EU to find an alternative to the backstop by December 2020. It remains to be seen if they are enough to get the deal passed.
“It is this deal, or Brexit might not happen at all,” Juncker said.
Attorney General for England and Wales Geoffrey Cox, Britain’s chief legal adviser, reviewed the changes to the deal and again said it carries too much risk. His advice in December said the same thing.
“The legal risk remains unchanged,” he wrote Tuesday, noting there are “internationally lawful means” of leaving the backstop without EU agreement.
Leaving the EU without an agreement, some experts worry, could lead to food shortages and trade-related chaos. Several companies with bases of operation in Britain have indicated for months they could relocate if a deal fails.
Nissan has canceled plans to build its X-Trail sport-utility vehicle in Sunderland, Britain, and Honda said it would close a plant in Swindon, about 80 miles west of London, by 2021.