LONDON – British lawmakers defeated Prime Minister Theresa May in a symbolic vote over her Brexit strategy on Thursday, undermining her pledge to European Union leaders that she can get the unpopular divorce deal approved if they grant her concessions.
Lawmakers defeated the government 303-258 on the main motion asking them to reaffirm support for her plan to seek changes.
While the vote does not force the government to change tack, the numbers will undermine EU leaders’ confidence that May can win parliament’s support for a revised agreement.
The latest twist in the two-year negotiation to leave the EU underlines the deep divisions in Parliament over how, or even whether, Britain should leave the bloc in its biggest political and trade policy shift in more than 40 years.
It also increases the possibility of Britain leaving without a deal, a nightmare scenario for many businesses, but also of Brexit being delayed or potentially never happening at all.
Up until the last minute before the votes, ministers and May’s chief whip, her enforcer in the House of Commons, tried to convince a group of Brexit supporters favoring a radical break with the EU that leaving without an agreement was still the legal default position.
The group, several dozen strong, had said they would abstain in Thursday’s vote.
Some Conservative and many opposition lawmakers accuse May of “running down the clock,” edging Britain closer to the exit date to try to force Parliament into a choice between backing her deal or leaving without an agreement.
To try to prevent a no-deal exit, several lawmakers put down alternative proposals.
The real crunch date for the government looks set to come on Feb. 27, when May has promised the next round of votes. Lawmakers seeking to force the government to delay Brexit say that will be moment they make their move.