Prime Minister Theresa May warned lawmakers late Tuesday that it will not be simple to extend talks with Brussels on Britain leaving the European Union, after she lost a crucial second vote on her Brexit deal.
In a major setback to her plan for Britain to leave the EU on March 29, May lost by 391 to 242 votes, amid continued opposition from eurosceptics in her Conservative party.
Following her defeat, she told the lawmakers in parliament’s elected main house, the Commons, that a vote on Britain leaving the EU without a deal would follow today as promised.
If parliament rejects that idea, a vote on extending the Brexit process will go ahead on Thursday, she said.
“But let me be clear, voting against leaving without a deal and for an extension does not solve the problems we face,” May said.
“The EU will want to know what use we mean to make of such an extension.
“This house will have to answer that question. Does it wish to revoke Article 50?” she said, referring to Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which allows a nation to leave the EU after up to two years of negotiations.
“Does it want to hold a second referendum? Or does it want to leave with a deal but not this deal?” May added.
“These are unenviable choices, but thanks to the decision the house has made this evening they must now be faced.”
May insisted that the agreement she has negotiated remains the “best and only deal available.”
In Brussels, a spokesman for EU Council President Donald Tusk said that if Britain makes a “reasoned request” for an extension to the Bexit talks, the EU’s remaining 27 member states will “stand ready to consider it and decide by unanimity.”
“The EU27 will decide, giving priority to the need to ensure the functioning of the EU institutions and taking into account the reasons for and duration of a possible extension,” the spokesman said.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted that the EU had “done everything it can to help get the withdrawal agreement over the line.”
“The impasse can only be solved in the UK,” Barnier said. “Our no-deal preparations are now more important than ever before.”
May also said her government would publish “essential policies” to be used in the event of no-deal Brexit on Wednesday.
Many eurosceptics said before the vote that they were not convinced by “legally binding” assurances on a protocol for the post-Brexit Irish border, which May claimed to have won after last-minute talks with EU officials late Monday.
Labour, the main opposition party, also said May’s last-minute negotiations on the “backstop” protocol had failed to change the deal on the table.
The eurosceptics and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are concerned that the backstop – intended as a temporary, last-resort measure – treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the United Kingdom and could become a permanent arrangement if post-Brexit trade talks fail.
The DUP’s 10 lawmakers have propped up May’s minority Conservative government since June 2017.