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UK Parliament votes overwhelmingly to reject Theresa May's Brexit deal with EU

Reuters TV | Prime Minister Theresa May addresses Parliament after the vote on May's Brexit deal on January 15 in this screengrab taken from Reuters video.

The British Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to reject a Brexit deal British Prime Minister Theresa May struck with EU leaders.

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The House of Commons lower house voted 432 to 202 against May's plan for taking Britain out of the European Union, one of the biggest defeats ever suffered by a British premier.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would call for a vote of no-confidence in May’s government on Wednesday.

Although May lacks an overall majority in Parliament, she looks likely to survive the vote unless lawmakers from her Conservative party rebel. Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which props up her government, said it would support her.

"The House has spoken and the government will listen," May said after the vote.

Parliament's decision paves the way for a range of possible outcomes, from eventually resurrecting the deal to leaving the EU with no agreement or even holding another referendum that could halt Brexit entirely.

In a statement released shortly after the vote, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Parliament's move increases the chances of a chaotic, no-deal Brexit.

A British exit without a deal is seen as a doomsday scenario that would threaten to trigger a recession in Britain and significantly slow the European Union's economic growth.

"I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its intentions as soon as possible. Time is almost up," Juncker said.

May's agreement was designed to keep trade rules between the world's fifth-biggest economy and its largest export market almost unchanged for a transition period running through the end of 2020.

A sudden shift to different standards would affect almost every economic sector and possibly see the costs of everyday products in Britain rise, as well as create disruption at logistical hubs such as ports.

“The UK Parliament has said what it doesn't want,” tweeted the European Parliament's Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, shortly after the decision. “Now is the time to find out what UK parliamentarians want. In the meantime, the rights of citizens must be safeguarded.”

May had refused to budge on the deal, which was agreed last November with EU leaders, despite criticism from all quarters. The agreement, which maintains close economic ties with the EU, has angered opposing sides of the debate from pro-EU lawmakers, who see it as the worst of all worlds, to Brexit supporters who say it will make Britain a vassal state.

The EU earlier told May that it stood by commitments to find ways to avoid triggering the "Irish backstop", an insurance policy to avoid the return of a hard border in Ireland. In a joint reply to questions from May, Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk said the EU stood by its commitment to try to reach a post-Brexit trade deal to avoid using the unpopular backstop.

>> The bumpy road to Brexit: A timeline of Britain’s EU divorce

With a 'no deal' Brexit the default option if May's deal is defeated, some lawmakers are planning to try to take control of Brexit away from the government.

But although May is weakened, the executive has significant powers, especially during times of crisis, so it was unclear how parliament would be able to take control of Brexit.

If May's government is unable to have any amended version passed in the next three weeks, one suggestion is for senior lawmakers who chair parliamentary committees to come up with an alternative Brexit plan.

"What we need to do is find the solution," said Nick Boles, one of the Conservative lawmakers, who said he would vote for May's deal. "And if the government can't find the solution ... then parliament needs to," he told BBC radio.

Speaking after finalising the Brexit "divorce deal' with May last November, Juncker warned against renouncing the accord.

“This is the only deal possible,” Juncker said, adding: “Those who think by rejecting the deal will have a better deal, will be disappointed in the few seconds after rejecting the deal.”

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

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