LONDON – On the day Britain was supposed to extract itself from the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a third crushing defeat on her exit plan, effectively setting the Brexit process back to the beginning almost three years after Britons voted to leave .
And as routine as defeat has become for Mrs. May, Friday's vote also undercorporated Parliament's failure to find a way out of Europe
Now another deadline for departure is looming, with no clear way forward, raising fears that the country is moving closer to an economically damaging, potentially disastrous exit from the European Union without a deal.
But still asking Parliament to vote on only half of her deal – the immediate divorce terms – Mrs. May's gamble failed.
On Monday, it will be Parliament's turn again. Lawmakers will try to tighten their grip on the process, with the aim of having a majority for an alternative path, and then challenging Mrs. May to make it work
"The implications of the House's decision are grave," said Mrs. May, after her loss by the emphatic margin of 58 votes. "I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House."
That was taken as a hint that she is contemplating a general election that would shake up the composition of the House of Commons. But Mrs. May refused to be more specific.
Mrs. May's plan would eventually take Britain out of Europe's main economic structures but give it control over immigration from continental Europe. Brexit hard-liners fear here plan could keep Britain too closely to the bloc, while pro-European critics prefer closer, long-term trading left with Europe, or no Brexit at all.
If Parliament remains deadlocked next week, Britain will face a strong choice: either run into a no-deal Brexit on the new deadline of April 12, or return to Brussels to request another extension from the bloc's leaders.
But as European leaders made clear two weeks ago, the government will have to put forth a reason for the delay – presumably time to hold either a general election, or less likely, a second public vote on Brexit, as the process of leaving the European Union is known.
In something of a last-dit effort, the prime minister this week had promised lawmakers she would step down if her plan were approved, giving Conservatives a chance to choose a leader to their liking to oversee the next round of negotiations.
But with here deal th warted again, there was no sign she intended to go anywhere.
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In a statement, the European Commission, the bloc's executive body, warned that "a" no deal 'scenario is now a likely scenario.' Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, the group of the bloc leaders, called a council meeting on April 10, two days before the next Brexit deadline.
The opposition Labor leader, Jeremy Corbyn, called on lawmakers to take over the process.
"On Monday, this House has the chance, and I say to all members, the responsibility, to find a majority for a better deal for all the people of this country, ”he said.
On Friday Parliament voted on the part of Mrs. May's plan that covers the nuts and bolts of the withdrawal, including the divorce payment; the rights of the bloc's citizens living in Britain; and the infamous Irish "backstop," or the border between Ireland, part of the European Union, and Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, will be kept open.
Lawmakers did not vote on the other half of her deal , a nonbinding "political declaration" about future ties with the bloc.
For a while it seemed as if Mrs. May's choreographing of the vote to turn the pressure on recalcitrant members of Parliament might work.
Throughout the day, one prominent Tory Brexiteer after another professed support for a plan that some of them had said would turn into a slave or vassal state
Among them was Dominic Raab, a leading Brexit negotiator for the government and one of the most hard-line Conservative supporters of withdrawal.
Writing on Twitter, Boris Johnson, a former foreign secretary who had been perhaps the most vocal critic of Mrs. May's proposal, said it would support it, although it was "very painful to vote for this deal." But the prime minister's putative allies in the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, whose opinion many pro-Brexit Tories considered determinative, resisted Mrs. May's entreaties to the end.
Their fear was that the deal would leave Northern Ireland in regulatory alignment with the European Union and cleaved from the rest of the United Kingdom.
In the end, Mrs. May lost at 344 votes to 286, slightly more respectable than the two previous rejections, of 230 and 149 votes, but still a big margin.
Mrs. May had hoped the vote would at least show that she was close to winning over Parliament. Instead it undercorrected the fact that nothing has been resolved two years after a formal exit process took place much more, only to descend into a shambles.
For Brexit supporters, March 29, once upon a time, supposed to be a big party, with a celebration at 11 pm
Some wanted Big Ben, currently silenced for renovation, to emerge from the scaffolding to chime Britain out of the European Union, sounding the death knell for 45 years of integrating with Europe. A commemorative coin was planned by the Royal Mint
So for the pro-Brexit activists who hollered "Shame on you!" In Parliament Square on Friday, Parliament's vote represented no less than the undoing of British democracy.
" I wish you could be Britain's freedom with champagne at 11 pm on Friday, just as we planned, ”said Allison Pearson, a columnist for the stridently pro-Brexit Daily Telegraph.
" Under the circumstances, half a glass of Tizer and Nurofen is more like it, "she said, referring to a British soft drink and a painkiller
Among pro-Europeans, many of whom turned out in the hundreds of thousands for a march in London last weekend, the vote was the clearest sign yet that lawmakers were heeding a shift in Public opinion on the European Union and seizing control from an unyielding prime minister.
"Happy Brexit day everyone !," read another . "I am going to celebrate my eating without bendy bananas, drinking some English sparkling wine & stroking my blue passport!"
For businesses, meanwhile, Friday's vote was a sobering moment as most of them have no idea what tariffs could apply to imports and exports next month.
There are no good options left for Mrs. May. To hold another vote on her deal, she needs the permission of the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, who has warned here that she cannot vote on something that has already been rejected.
She could ask the European Union for a longer extension, blaming here political opponents for keeping Britain in the bloc by opposing her deal. But that would mean going back to a central pledge to end ties quickly.
And if she was trying to proceed with a no-deal Brexit, Parliament would surely try to stop here, as a clear majority of lawmakers oppose that outcome .
As with so much about Brexit, though, how such a move would work in practice remains unclear.