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Brextension: UK lawmakers vote to seek delay of EU departure

By The Associated Press
Posted 7:47PM on Thursday 14th March 2019 ( 6 days ago )

LONDON (AP) — In a stalemate over Brexit, British politicians have chosen to delay it.

After weeks of political gridlock, Parliament voted Thursday to seek to postpone the country's departure from the European Union, a move that will likely avert a chaotic withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29.

With Brexit due in 15 days and no divorce deal yet approved, the House of Commons voted 413-202 to ask the bloc to put off Britain's exit until at least June 30. The official result was initially announced as 412-202, but was later amended to 413 in the official voting list.

The vote gives Prime Minister Theresa May some breathing space, but is still humbling for a leader who has spent two years telling Britons they were leaving the bloc on March 29.

Power to approve or reject the extension lies with the EU, which has signaled that it will only allow a delay if Britain either approves a divorce deal or makes a fundamental shift in its approach to Brexit. In a historic irony, almost three years after Britain voted to leave the EU, its future is now in the bloc's hands.

May is likely to ask EU leaders for an extension at a March 21-22 summit of the bloc in Brussels.

The European Commission said the bloc would consider any request, "taking into account the reasons for and duration of a possible extension."

May was forced to consider a Brexit delay after lawmakers twice rejected her EU divorce deal and also ruled out, in principle, leaving the bloc without an agreement. Withdrawing without a deal could mean major disruptions for businesses and people in the U.K. and the 27 remaining countries.

By law, Britain will leave the EU on March 29, with or without a deal, unless it cancels Brexit or secures a delay.

Thursday could have been worse for May. Lawmakers rejected an attempt to strip her of control over the Brexit agenda. They defeated by the narrowest of margins — 314-312 — an opposition attempt let Parliament choose an alternative to May's rejected divorce deal and force the government to negotiate it with the EU.

Lawmakers also voted against holding a second Brexit referendum — at least for now.

By a decisive 334-85 vote, they defeated a motion that called for another vote by the public on whether to stay in the EU or leave. Campaigners for a new referendum are divided over whether the time is right to push for a second Brexit vote. The vote doesn't prevent lawmakers from trying again later to get Parliament's support for another referendum.

Despite the rebuffs and the political chaos that have weakened her authority, May has signaled she will try a third time to get backing for her agreement next week. She is seeking to win over Brexit-backing opponents in her own party and its Northern Irish political ally, the Democratic Unionist Party, who fear the deal keeps Britain too closely tied to the EU.

Alan Wager, a researcher at the U.K. in a Changing Europe think tank, said May faced a struggle to overturn a 149-vote margin of defeat in Parliament this week.

"It's still really difficult to see how the numbers stack up for Theresa May, but she's giving it one more go," he said.

If May's deal is approved, she hopes to use a delay until June 30 to enact legislation needed for Britain's departure. She has warned Brexit supporters who oppose her deal that if no withdrawal agreement is passed in the coming days, the only option will be to seek a long extension that could mean Brexit never happens.

Any delay in the Brexit process would require the unanimous approval of all 27 remaining EU member states — and leaders in the bloc are exasperated at the events in London. They have said they will approve an extension if there is a specific reason, but don't want to provide more time for political bickering in Britain.

"Under no circumstances an extension in the dark!" tweeted the European Parliament's Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt. "Unless there is a clear majority in the House of Commons for something precise, there is no reason at all for the European Council to agree on a prolongation."

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the EU needed "more decisions" from London.

The EU is also reluctant to postpone Brexit beyond the late May elections for the European Parliament, because that would mean Britain taking part even as it prepares to leave.

The bloc is more open to a long delay to allow Britain to radically change course — an idea favored by pro-EU British lawmakers who want to maintain close ties with the EU.

European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that he will appeal to EU leaders "to be open to a long extension if the U.K. finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus about it."

In another sting for May, U.S. President Donald Trump said he was "surprised at how badly" the Brexit negotiations have been handled. Trump, who sees himself as a deal-maker, said he gave May advice but she didn't listen to him.

Speaking alongside Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at the White House, Trump said Britain's debate over leaving the EU was "tearing the country apart."

British businesses expressed relief at the prospect of a delay. Many worry that a no-deal Brexit would cause upheaval, with customs checks causing gridlock at U.K. ports, new tariffs triggering sudden price increases and red tape for everyone from truckers to tourists.

Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said the vote for an extension showed there was "still some common sense in Westminster."

"But without a radically new approach, business fears this is simply a stay of execution," he said.

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Associated Press writers Gregory Katz in London and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed.

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This story has been amended to correct the vote count after the wrong number was announced in Parliament.

Follow AP's full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

Britain's Chancellor Philip Hammond arrives at Downing Street in London, Thursday, March 14, 2019. In a tentative first step toward ending months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted Wednesday to block the country from leaving the European Union without a divorce agreement, triggering an attempt to delay that departure, currently due to take place on March 29. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Britain's Chief Whip Julian Smith arrives at Downing Street in London, Thursday, March 14, 2019. In a tentative first step toward ending months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted Wednesday to block the country from leaving the European Union without a divorce agreement, triggering an attempt to delay that departure, currently due to take place on March 29. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Pro-Brexit supportes protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Thursday, March 14, 2019. British lawmakers faced another tumultuous day Thursday, as Parliament prepared to vote on whether to request a delay to the country's scheduled departure from the European Union and Prime Minister Theresa May struggled to shore up her shattered authority. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A cleaner works in Downing Street in London, Thursday, March 14, 2019. In a tentative first step toward ending months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted Wednesday to block the country from leaving the European Union without a divorce agreement, triggering an attempt to delay that departure, currently due to take place on March 29.(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
A cleaner works in Downing Street in London, Thursday, March 14, 2019. In a tentative first step toward ending months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted Wednesday to block the country from leaving the European Union without a divorce agreement, triggering an attempt to delay that departure, currently due to take place on March 29.(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
A cleaner works in Downing Street in London, Thursday, March 14, 2019. In a tentative first step toward ending months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted Wednesday to block the country from leaving the European Union without a divorce agreement, triggering an attempt to delay that departure, currently due to take place on March 29.(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
An anti-Brexit remain in the European Union supporter, right, stands next to pro-Brexit supported holding a banner outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Thursday, March 14, 2019. British lawmakers faced another tumultuous day Thursday, as Parliament prepared to vote on whether to request a delay to the country's scheduled departure from the European Union and Prime Minister Theresa May struggled to shore up her shattered authority. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
An European Union flags is reflected on the ground as a woman jogs on a rainy day outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, March 14, 2019. In a tentative first step toward ending months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted Wednesday to block the country from leaving the European Union without a divorce agreement, triggering an attempt to delay that departure, currently due to take place on March 29. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, center, arrives in Downing street in London, Thursday, March 14, 2019. British lawmakers faced another tumultuous day Thursday, as Parliament prepared to vote on whether to request a delay to the country's scheduled departure from the European Union and Prime Minister Theresa May struggled to shore up her shattered authority. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing street in London, Thursday, March 14, 2019. British lawmakers faced another tumultuous day Thursday, as Parliament prepared to vote on whether to request a delay to the country's scheduled departure from the European Union and Prime Minister Theresa May struggled to shore up her shattered authority. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May waves as she leaves 10 Downing street in London, Thursday, March 14, 2019. British lawmakers faced another tumultuous day Thursday, as Parliament prepared to vote on whether to request a delay to the country's scheduled departure from the European Union and Prime Minister Theresa May struggled to shore up her shattered authority. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May waves as she leaves 10 Downing street in London, Thursday, March 14, 2019. British lawmakers faced another tumultuous day Thursday, as Parliament prepared to vote on whether to request a delay to the country's scheduled departure from the European Union and Prime Minister Theresa May struggled to shore up her shattered authority. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
An anti-Brexit remain in the European Union supporter, left, plays a guitar as she's surrounded by UKIP pro-Brexit supporters outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Thursday, March 14, 2019. British lawmakers faced another tumultuous day Thursday, as Parliament prepared to vote on whether to request a delay to the country's scheduled departure from the European Union and Prime Minister Theresa May struggled to shore up her shattered authority. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Effigies of British politicians from left, Prime Minister Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are driven on a truck by anti-Brexit, remain in the European Union supporters outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Thursday, March 14, 2019. British lawmakers faced another tumultuous day Thursday, as Parliament prepared to vote on whether to request a delay to the country's scheduled departure from the European Union and Prime Minister Theresa May struggled to shore up her shattered authority. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Anti-Brexit remain in the European Union supporters gather outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Thursday, March 14, 2019. British lawmakers faced another tumultuous day Thursday, as Parliament prepared to vote on whether to request a delay to the country's scheduled departure from the European Union and Prime Minister Theresa May struggled to shore up her shattered authority. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves the Houses of Parliament in London, Thursday, March 14, 2019. Britain's Parliament voted Thursday to seek a delay of the country's departure from the European Union, a move that will likely avert a chaotic withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)
Britian's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves the Houses of Parliament in London, Thursday, March 14, 2019. Britain's Parliament voted Thursday to seek a delay of the country's departure from the European Union, a move that will likely avert a chaotic withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)
In this handout photo provided by UK Parliament, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, first row centre, laughs during the Brexit debate in the House of Commons, London, Thursday March 14, 2019. Britain's Parliament has voted to seek a delay of the country's departure from the European Union, a move that will likely avert a chaotic withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29. (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor via AP)
In this handout photo provided by UK Parliament, Speaker of the House John Bercow, centre, talks, during the Brexit debate in the House of Commons, London, Thursday March 14, 2019. Britain's Parliament has voted to seek a delay of the country's departure from the European Union, a move that will likely avert a chaotic withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29. (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor via AP)
In this handout photo provided by UK Parliament, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, first row second right, listens as MPs give the result of the vote during the Brexit debate in the House of Commons, London, Thursday March 14, 2019. Britain's Parliament has voted to seek a delay of the country's departure from the European Union, a move that will likely avert a chaotic withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29. (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor via AP)
A bus drives past as an anti-Brexit remain in the European Union supporter holds an illuminated European flag whilst protesting opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Thursday, March 14, 2019. British lawmakers have voted to delay Brexit, just 15 days before the country is scheduled to leave the European Union. The House of Commons voted by 413-202 in favor of seeking to postpone the U.K.'s departure for at least three months beyond the scheduled March 29 departure from the EU. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

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