Brexit: UK's Theresa May loses crucial vote on EU divorce deal

Embattled prime minister suffers a third major defeat on Brexit as the UK heads for a 'no-deal' exit on April 12.

    British MPs have rejected the government's Brexit divorce deal, handing Prime Minister Theresa May a fresh defeat in her battle to steer the UK out of the European Union.

    MPs voted by 344 to 286 on Friday against the withdrawal agreement, a stripped-down version of the twice-defeated deal that May agreed with the EU.

    The result means that the UK is now set to leave the bloc on April 12 without a deal, unless the government negotiates an extension to the country's departure date with Brussels.

    Addressing Parliament after the vote, May said it was a matter of "profound regret" that the deal failed and that the "implications of this decision are grave", noting that the UK would now leave the bloc on April 12 by legal default.

    "I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House," May said. 

    Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour party, said the prime minister should resign and also called for a general election as a way to break the Brexit deadlock.

    "The House has been clear. This deal now has to change, there has to be an alternative found. If the prime minister can't accept that, then she must go."

    The government brought Friday's vote in the hopes that it could find majority support if MPs only voted on the withdrawal agreement, rather than the overall Brexit package negotiated with the EU, which also includes a political declaration that outlines plans for the UK's future relationship with the the bloc.

    But only a handful of opposition Labour legislators switched to back the deal, while dozens of May's Conservative party MPs voted against the government, along with 10 MPs from the Norther Irish Democratic Unionist Party, which props up the government, leading to a sizeable loss for May.

    Reporting from London, Al Jazeera's Paul Brennan said the result was not a surprise.

    "This defeat today was not unexpected, the numbers simply were not there," he said. "The majority of 58 really speaks volumes as to the fact that she (May) wasn't able to persuade enough people."

    Following the vote, European Council President Donald Tusk said EU leaders would meet on April 10 to discuss Brexit.

    "In view of the rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement by the House of Commons, I have decided to call a European Council on April 10," Tusk said.

    The European Commission said a "no-deal" Brexit on April 12 was now "likely".

    "The Commission regrets the negative vote in the House of Commons today," a spokesman said, adding that the EU has given London until April 12 to inform it of the next steps. "It will be for the UK to indicate the way forward before that date."

    "A 'no-deal' scenario on April 12 is now a likely scenario. The EU ... is now fully prepared for a 'no-deal' scenario at midnight on April 12."

    Next steps

    While the UK is now scheduled to leave the bloc in two weeks, the government may seek a longer extension, although such a move would require Britain to contest the upcoming European Parliament elections. An extension would also need the unanimous support of all other 27 EU member states.

    EU leaders have said the UK would have to provide a clear strategy in order to secure a longer extension.

    Reporting from Brussels, Al Jazeera's Natacha Butler said frustration with the Brexit process was growing in EU circles.

    "EU leaders have been very clear for a while now that they don't want to negotiate a new deal," she said.

    "I think there is a real sense in the EU that some months ago, perhaps they would have been more open to a few changes, but as this process has gone on, there's just such a sense of weariness that the business of Brexit is taking over all other European Union business."

    This week, the British parliament held a series of non-binding votes on a number of alternative Brexit plans, in an attempt to see if a majority could be found for a new approach. Of the eight plans put to the vote, none won majority support.

    May said legislators would continue on Monday to try and "see if there is a stable majority for a particular alternative version of our future relationship with the EU", adding that any plan would also require MPs to back the withdrawal agreement.

    Tom Brake, a Liberal Democrat MP, told Al Jazeera that while May's deal is "as dead as a dodo", he was confident Parliament would take the initiative on breaking the Brexit impasse next week.

    "What happens on Monday is that process of Parliament taking control of this continues," he said.

    "We have a day booked, where what I expect to happen is that some of the options that were debated earlier in the week will be refined, perhaps joined together, and I think we will see a majority potentially emerge around one of those options."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies