LONDON — Theresa May’s Brexit deal was slapped down for third time by the British Parliament on Friday, with all bets off on when or how United Kingdom will leave the European Union.
The E.U. gave Britain until the end of this week to approve the withdrawal agreement. Now it has until April 12 to propose a new plan, or leave the bloc without a deal.
The prime minister’s stripped-down version of her twice-defeated Brexit deal lost on Friday by 58 votes — 344 to 286 — in yet another “last ditch” and “cliff edge” attempt to exit from the European Union.
The third losing vote for May in the House of Commons came on the day Britain was due to “take back control” and depart the continental trading bloc.
But instead of Brexiteers gulping pints and waving Union Jack flags to celebrate what they were, once upon a time, calling “British Independence Day,” (copyright pending re: American Revolution) the parliamentarians are still debating how and whether they want to leave.
“Today should have been the day that the United Kingdom left the European Union. That we are not leaving today is a matter of deep personal regret to me,” May said, moments before lawmakers started voting.
“There are those who will say, ‘the House has rejected every option so far, you’ll probably lose, so why bother?’ I bother because this is the last opportunity to guarantee Brexit,” she said.
The prime minister offered to resign if her own Conservative Party could help deal over the line. And that did help convince some members to back it — but not enough.
In a series of tweets on Friday morning, Boris Johnson, Britain’s former foreign secretary and a favorite to replace May, explained his screeching U-turn.
Recall: Johnson once described May’s deal as something akin to donning a “suicide vest,” but on Friday said that not voting for it posed the “risk of being forced to accept an even worse version of Brexit or losing Brexit altogether.”
Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary and another potential contender for May’s job, said he was now on board.
“I will vote for the motion,” he said, prompting cheers and jeers in the Commons on Friday.
Backing it will “stave off a longer extension and prevent European elections in May,” Raab said
But May needed more than just Conservative Party “switchers.” She needed the Democratic Unionist Party, who voted against the government.
She also needed a handful of Labour lawmakers.
On Friday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told Parliament the deal was “bad for our democracy, bad for our economy and bad for this country” and he urged lawmakers “not to not to be cajoled for this third-time-lucky strategy and vote it down today.”
The House of Commons voted only on part of the Brexit treaty — the 585-page withdrawal agreement. That’s the part of the treaty that spells out, in a legally binding way, how much Britain will pay to leave the European Union ($50 billion), how the two-year transition will preserve the status quo for trade and travel (no change), and how Britain and the European Union will treat each other’s citizens in the interim (nobody gets kicked out of anybody’s country).
The withdrawal agreement also includes the controversial “Irish backstop,” an ironclad guarantee to preserve the open, invisible border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland — with trade-offs that have been a stopping point in the past.
Parliament did not vote Friday on the second part of the treaty, the political declaration, which sets out the aspirations for the future relationship on trade, security and borders.
The hope, from Team May, was that the withdrawal agreement on its own will win over more votes than the overall agreement. They were also trying to get around a ruling by House of Commons Speaker John Bercow that the government cannot repeatedly present the same motion for a vote.
On Friday, Brexit dominated the front pages of British newspapers and websites — but not in the way Brexiteers might have imagined exactly two years ago, Britain gave its formal notice to the E.U. that it would be leaving the bloc on March 29, 2019.
“Darkest Hour for Democracy,” ran the front-page headline in the Daily Express, one of the most pro-Brexit newspapers. “One Last Chance,” said the Daily Mail, urging parliamentarians to “put your country first” and back May’s deal. “The day of reckoning,” said the Daily Telegraph.
On social media, the search term trending was “Kafka Brexit,” in a nod to the twisted, nightmarish qualities of Franz Kafka’s fictional world.
Also popular: A Banksy painting portraying the members of Parliament as chimps, on display at the Bristol Museum.
When a BBC reporter asked a cabinet minister why the prime minister would hold the vote when she almost certainly faces defeat, he was told: “F— knows. I am past caring. It is like the living dead in here.”
On Friday, the newly-formed group of lawmakers known as the Independent Group applied to form a new political party called ChangeUK, which hopes to field candidates in the European elections if Britain takes part in them. The group is formed of 11 politicians who broke away from the Conservative and Labour Party over their handling of Brexit.