Britain’s Parliament delivered a crushing defeat to Prime Minister Theresa May’s European Union divorce deal Tuesday, plunging the Brexit process into chaos just 17 days before the U.K. is due to leave the bloc. Lawmakers rejected the deal in a 391-242 vote, ignoring May’s entreaties to back the agreement and end the political chaos and economic uncertainty that Brexit has unleashed.
It was a narrower outcome than a 230-vote margin ofin January.
British lawmakers now face a stark choice between leaving the EU without an agreement — an idea likely to be rejected — or delaying the country’s withdrawal past the scheduled March 29 departure date. Lawmakers are due to vote on those options in the next two days.
Delaying Brexit would need the approval from all 27 remaining EU countries. They are likely to agree, as long as Britain leaves before elections to the European parliament in late May.
Some British lawmakers had warned their Brexit-backing colleagues ahead of Tuesday’s vote that rejecting the deal could lead to Britain’s departure being postponed indefinitely, because a delay would give momentum to opponents of Brexit.
“Today is our Hotel California moment. If we don’t check out tonight, we may never leave,” Conservative legislator Bob Seely tweeted.
May — her voice ragged after days of frantic shuttle diplomacy — had earlier told the House of Commons, “this is the moment and this is the time — time for us to come together, back this motion and get the deal done.”
She had hoped that changes she secured from the bloc in the wake of January’s vote would be enough to persuade many to change their minds. She won some last minute concessions from EU negotiators on Monday to try and get a majority of the House of Commons on board with her plan.
“If this deal is not passed, then Brexit could be lost,” May said before Tuesday’s vote.
But prominent Brexit supporters were unconvinced. Hard-core Brexit supporters in May’s Conservative Party and the prime minister’s allies in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party both said they could not support the deal.
May said after the vote that she “profoundly regrets” the House of Commons’ rejection of the deal and that delaying Britain’s departure won’t solve the underlying problem.
More than two and a half years after the country voted to leave the EU — and with no certainty about when or how it will — many Britons are simply fed up. In the staunchly pro-Brexit port of Dover in southern England, retiree Mary Simpson said she felt that her voice as a “leave” voter had not been heard.
“I am actually considering never voting again, quite honestly, because I am beginning to feel that there is no point in it,” she said.