Europe

'Listen to the British people': How May responded after Brexit vote humiliation

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British Prime Minister Theresa May has been handed a crushing defeat in a historic vote on the Brexit deal she has struck with the European Union, leaving the world's fifth biggest economy in limbo.

British MPs have voted overwhelmingly to reject the EU divorce deal struck between London and Brussels, in a historic vote that leaves Brexit hanging in the balance.

MPs in parliament's lower House of Commons voted by 432 to 202 to reject Prime Minister Theresa May's agreement with the EU.

"Mr Speaker, the House has spoken and the Government will listen,"  Ms May said, immediately after the vote.

"Nothing about how - or even if - it intends to honor the decision the British people took in a referendum Parliament decided to hold.

“People, particularly EU citizens who have made their home here and UK citizens living in the EU, deserve clarity on these questions as soon as possible. Those whose jobs rely on our trade with the EU need that clarity.

"So with your permission Mr Speaker I would like to set out briefly how the Government intends to proceed."

Prime Minister Theresa May reacts after MPs announce the result.
Prime Minister Theresa May reacts after MPs announce the result.
PA

After detailing her course if action if Labour challenged her with a vote of no confidence, Ms May said she wanted to offer "two reassurances" - first that the government was not attempting to "run out the clock" on the March 29 deadline.

"The second reassurance is to the British people, who voted to leave the European Union in the referendum two and a half years ago... every day that passes without this issue being resolved means more uncertainty, more bitterness and more rancor," she told the house.

"The government has heard what the House has said tonight, but I ask Members on all sides of the House to listen to the British people, who want this issue settled, and to work with the government to do just that."

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn called it "absolutely decisive" and a "catastrophic defeat" for the government, telling parliament he had tabled a motion of no confidence.

That motion will be debated tomorrow.

Speaking moments before the MPs cast their ballots, Ms May said MPs had a "duty to deliver" on the results of a 2016 referendum that started the divorce.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for a motion of no confidence.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for a motion of no confidence.
PA

"I believe we have a duty to deliver on the democratic decision of the British people," she said, warning MPs that the EU would not offer any "alternative deal".

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Corbyn calls motion of no confidence
Corbyn calls motion of no confidence

"The responsibility of each and every one of us at this moment is profound, for this is a historic decision that will set the future of our country for generations."

The British parliament's rejection of a negotiated Brexit deal increases the risk that Britain will crash out of the European Union without an agreement, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned.

"I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its intentions as soon as possible. Time is almost up," the head of the EU's executive arm said in a statement immediately after the vote.

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Theresa May on rejected Brexit deal
Theresa May on rejected Brexit deal

A spokesman for the European council president, Donald Tusk said: “We regret the outcome of the vote, and urge the UK government to clarify its intentions with respect to next steps as soon as possible”.

Theresa May leaves the Houses of Parliament after being defeated in The Meaningful Vote on Brexit EU Withdrawal Agreement in London.
Theresa May leaves the Houses of Parliament after being defeated in The Meaningful Vote on Brexit EU Withdrawal Agreement in London.
PA

Most lawmakers have always opposed Brexit, as have some leading members of Ms May's government, creating an inherent contradiction that has torn apart the island nation.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has urged MPs to secure a Brexit deal.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has urged MPs to secure a Brexit deal.
AAP

With just over two months to go until the scheduled Brexit date of March 29, Britain is still bitterly divided over how and even whether it should split away from the bloc's other 27 nations.

Ms May must now decide whether she tries to hold another vote, gets kicked out of office, delays Brexit - or if Brexit even happens at all.

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at the conclusion of the debate ahead of a vote on her Brexit deal in the House of Commons.
Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at the conclusion of the debate ahead of a vote on her Brexit deal in the House of Commons.
PA

As their nation's fate was being decided, hundreds of noisy supporters and opponents of Brexit, some banging drums and others driving floats with huge dolls mocking top UK politicians, rallied outside the ancient parliament building in London.

"It could end up being the day that will lead to us leaving with no deal!" said 25-year-old Simon Fisher, who backs a swift and sharp break with the EU.

A much larger rally nearby in support of a second referendum turned Parliament Square into a sea of EU flags.

'No Deal? No problem!'

Ms May made it her mission to carry out the wishes of voters after she became premier in July 2016, putting aside her own initial misgivings and stating repeatedly that "Brexit means Brexit".

But facing a heavy drubbing, Ms May decided to postpone a parliamentary vote in December on the Brexit deal in the hope of winning concessions from Brussels - and that a Christmas break would change lawmakers' minds.

EU leaders came back with only non-binding clarifications, and just a handful of new MPs have rallied to the PM's side.

MPs are as divided as the British people as Theresa May made a last-ditch plea for her Brexit deal.
MPs are as divided as the British people as Theresa May made a last-ditch plea for her Brexit deal.
EPA

The UK government's current plan appears to be to try to ram a very similar version of the agreement through parliament on a second or possibly even third attempt.

In Strasbourg, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas raised the possibility of further talks while ruling out a full renegotiation of the text.

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Cheers outside parliament as MPs reject EU deal
Cheers outside parliament as MPs reject EU deal

Frustration

Hardline Brexiteers and Remainers oppose the agreement for different reasons and many fear it could lock Britain into an unfavourable trading relationship with the EU.

Bitter debates about Britain's place in the world have dominated the national discourse ever since the referendum, dividing families and playing out in front of parliament on Tuesday.

Financial markets were also watching closely, with several currency trading companies roping in extra staff for the vote and at least one putting a cap on trades to avoid excessive movements.

The British pound rallied after the vote, standing at 88.71 pence to the euro, compared with 89.57 and 89.15 Monday night.

Labour's Jeremy Corbyn.
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn.
AAP

Risk of no deal

Criticism of the deal is focused on an arrangement to keep open the border with Ireland by aligning Britain with some EU trade rules, if and until London and Brussels sign a new economic partnership which could take several years.

Sammy Wilson, Brexit spokesman with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, upon which May relies for her parliamentary majority, told the BBC his party would not be forced into backing the deal by fears over the border.

The government must set out what happens next by Monday, if - as is expected - it survives the no-confidence vote.

Speculation is growing on both sides of the Channel that Ms May could ask to delay Brexit.

But a diplomatic source told AFP any extension would not be possible beyond June 30, when the new European Parliament will be formed. 

The UK remains bitterly divided.
The UK remains bitterly divided.
AAP

The withdrawal agreement includes plans for a post-Brexit transition period until a new relationship is drawn up, in return for continued budget contributions from London.

Without it, and if there is no delay, Britain will sever ties with its nearest neighbours with no agreement to ease the blow.

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Westminster aerials as Brexit debate continues
Westminster aerials as Brexit debate continues

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