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Theresa May faces no-confidence vote after decisive Brexit deal rebuke

U.K. Parliament rejects Brexit deal

London — British lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's divorce deal with the European Union on Tuesday, plunging the Brexit process into chaos and triggering a no-confidence vote that could topple her government. 

The defeat was widely expected, but the scale of the House of Commons' vote — 432 votes against the government and 202 in support — was devastating for May's fragile leadership. 

Moments after the result was announced, May said it was only right to test whether the government still had lawmakers' support to carry on. Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn quickly obliged, saying May's government had lost the confidence of Parliament. 

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses Parliament after the vote on May's Brexit deal, in London
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses Parliament after the vote on May's Brexit deal in London on Jan. 15, 2019. REUTERS TV / REUTERS

Lawmakers will vote Wednesday on his motion of no-confidence. 

May has already survived a no-confidence vote among her Conservative colleagues. If her government wins this latest vote, she would carry on with her deal. If she loses, it would clear the way for a different lawmaker from her party or another to try and form a new government. 

Although May lacks an overall majority in Parliament, she looks likely to survive the vote.

"The House has spoken and the government will listen," May said after the Tuesday vote, which leaves her Brexit plan on life support just 10 weeks before the country is due to leave the EU on March 29. At that point, barring an upheaval in Parliament that reverses the process, under EU rules, the United Kingdom will be out. 

So what will happen next? The short answer is: nobody knows yet. This is uncharted territory. No EU member has ever triggered Article 50 of the European Constitution — the withdrawal mechanism — before.

May has promised to consult lawmakers on future moves, but gave little indication of what she plans to do next. She faces a stark choice: Steer the country toward an abrupt "no-deal" break with the EU or try to nudge it toward a softer departure. 

Meanwhile, lawmakers from both government and opposition parties are trying to wrest control of the Brexit process from a paralyzed government, so that lawmakers by majority vote can specify a new plan for Britain's EU exit. But with no clear majority in Parliament for any single alternate course, there is a growing chance that Britain may seek to postpone its departure date while politicians work on a new plan — or even hand the decision back to voters in a new referendum on EU membership. 

"If you can't resolve the impasse here in Westminster, than you have to refer it back to the people," said Labour Party lawmaker Chuka Umunna, who supports a second referendum.