UK MPs have voted to avoid a no deal Brexit, while telling Prime Minister Theresa May to tear up the only agreement she and European Union negotiators have said is possible.
MPs backed a call to urge May to return to Brussels and secure a new deal without the controversial ‘backstop’ designed to ensure a hard border could never appear in Northern Ireland by obliging the region to continue to follow EU rules if no other solution can be found.
While welcoming the result of the vote, May admitted that there was “little appetite” in Brussels for a renegotiation — a point confirmed shortly afterwards by EU Council President Donald Tusk who described the deal rejected by MPs as the “best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal.”
The government of Ireland, which will remain an EU member, issued a statement reiterating its refusal to consider its position, saying that the backstop is essential to upholding a peace accord that ended decades of conflict over the status of the North.
In a separate vote, British MPs rejected calls to extend the Brexit negotiations, meaning Britain has exactly two months before leaving the European Union, whether or not a deal has been secured.
What happens next?
Theresa May has not yet organised her travel to Brussels but will try to convince European politicians that a renegotiation of the backstop is the only way out of the impasse.
By mid-February, British MPs will get to vote on any new deal, or the previous proposal put forward by May. The latter, in a slightly different form, was rejected by a historic margin earlier this month.
In the absence of a deal agreed between the 27 remaining EU members, the UK government and the UK parliament, Britain will leave the EU on March 29 without any transition period to allow businesses and governments to the new situation.