British Lawmakers Vote to Delay Brexit

British Lawmakers Vote to Delay Brexit
An anti-Brexit protester walks outside the Houses of Parliament in London on March 14, 2019. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

LONDON—British lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on March 14 to seek a delay in Britain’s exit from the European Union, setting the stage for Prime Minister Theresa May to renew efforts to get her divorce deal approved by Parliament next week.

Lawmakers approved, by a 412–202 vote, a statement setting out the option to request a short delay if a Brexit deal can be agreed to by March 20—or a longer delay if no deal can be reached in time.

Just 15 days before Britain is due to leave the European Union, May is using the threat of a long delay to push Brexit supporters in her Conservative Party to finally back her deal.

A new vote on her deal is likely next week, when those lawmakers will have to decide whether to back a deal they feel doesn’t offer a clean break from the EU, or accept that Brexit could be watered down or even thwarted by a lengthy delay.

Earlier, lawmakers voted 334–85 against a second referendum on EU membership. Most opposition Labour lawmakers didn’t back the measure and even campaigners for a so-called People’s Vote said the time wasn’t yet right for Parliament to vote on the matter.

The government narrowly survived an attempt to give lawmakers control of the parliamentary agenda on March 20, with the aim of forcing a discussion of alternative Brexit options at a later date.

May’s authority hit an all-time low this week after a series of humiliating parliamentary defeats and rebellions. But she has made clear her plan is still on the agenda, despite twice being rejected by an overwhelming majority in Parliament, in January and again on March 12.

May’s spokesman said that she would put her Brexit deal, struck after two-and-a-half years of negotiations with the EU, to another vote, “if it was felt that it were worthwhile.”

Seeking to win over dissenters, she has given rebellious Conservative lawmakers a thinly veiled warning that a failure to back her plan could mean no Brexit at all.

Britons voted by 52-48 percent in a 2016 referendum to leave the EU, a decision that has not only divided the main political parties but also exposed deep rifts in British society.

By Elizabeth Piper, Kylie MacLellan, and William James