British lawmakers were yesterday to vote on whether to ask the EU for an extension to the March 29 Brexit deadline, with the whole process mired in chaos.
The vote was scheduled after lawmakers on Wednesday voted to reject a “no-deal” Brexit, in an intense week of parliamentary ballots.
The government is to ask lawmakers to endorse its plan to hold another vote on the divorce deal in the coming days and to request a delay whatever the outcome.
The delay would be until June 30 if the Brexit deal is finally approved, but it has already been overwhelmingly rejected twice by parliament — in January and earlier this week.
If lawmakers vote against the deal once again, the government said that the Brexit delay could be much longer and might force Britain to take part in European Parliament elections next month.
Brexit has become deadlocked in parliament, reflecting the deep divisions that remain in Britain almost three years after the June 2016 referendum to leave the EU.
Any request for a delay would still have to go before EU leaders at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday next week.
They have already said that they would only agree to push back the Brexit date if Britain makes concrete proposals to break the crisis.
Unless British lawmakers agree to the deal or EU leaders unanimously approve a delay, Britain would still have to crash out of the EU with no deal in place on March 29.
Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the European Parliament’s Brexit committee, said on Twitter that he is “against any extension of Article 50 [the Brexit process], even for just 24 hours, if it is not based on a clear majority from the [British] House of Commons in favour of something.”
Embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May would also have to convince “each and every” EU country to grant any delay, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok said on Wednesday.
The series of votes has further entrenched the divide between the rival British camps, both in the chamber and in the country at large as protesters of both factions once again gathered outside Westminster.
“Unfortunately, our deceitful prime minister and many in her Cabinet have tried to derail the Brexit process by never standing strong to the EU and saying if we don’t get a proper deal we’re just walking away,” 56-year-old Brexit supporter Suzanne Hall said.
“I think there needs to be a second referendum,” 64-year-old Christine Bobin said. “I don’t think people voted knowing what was going to happen.”
May had hoped that last-minute assurances from EU chiefs on key sticking points in her deal, chiefly a backstop proposal to keep the Irish border open, would get it through parliament.
However, she was torpedoed by legal advice from Attorney General for England and Wales Geoffrey Cox, who said that the changes would not allow Britain to leave the backstop of its own accord, raising fears that the country would be stuck in an indefinite customs union with the EU.
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