The British Parliament rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal for a second time Tuesday, prolonging the uncertainty over whether the U.K. will exit the European Union in an orderly fashion on March 29 or possibly extend the deadline for withdrawal.
The 391-242 vote was a fresh humiliation for May, whose original Brexit blueprint was defeated by an even greater margin in January. She offered a slightly revised version of that blueprint to lawmakers Tuesday, with tweaks that tried to address their concerns over the status of the border between the U.K. and Ireland, but it proved not to be enough.
Parliament will now take two more votes on Wednesday and Thursday. The vote Wednesday will likely rule out the possibility of Britain leaving the E.U. with no deal in place, a situation that politicians and business leaders say would result in economic chaos. The Thursday vote will be on whether to ask the E.U. for an extension of the March 29 deadline, possibly by as much as 20 months, in order for May and her administration to hammer out another agreement acceptable to both British lawmakers and to the other 27 E.U. countries.
For the business community, including the entertainment industry, Tuesday’s vote does not change their immediate status but aggravates the uncertainty they have faced over the past three years, since the 2016 referendum in which a slim majority of British voters decided to pull their country out of the European Union. Since then, the value of the British pound has plummeted, and companies have begun making contingency plans for a post-Brexit world in which European workers cannot easily move to Britain, tariffs might be resurrected and trade becomes harder.
Some entertainment businesses have begun hedging their bets, particularly the television industry. A handful of international channels operators, including Discovery and NBCUniversal, have begun shifting their European licenses out of Britain to other countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands, to ensure that the permits will still be valid throughout the rest of Europe after Brexit. Up till now, a Britain-issued license has been good in the rest of the E.U.
The deal voted down on Tuesday evening was not a detailed trade agreement but rather the “divorce” framework setting the terms of Britain’s departure from the E.U. Only after such a framework is approved would the nitty-gritty details of a trade agreement between Britain and Europe be negotiated.
The sticking point for many lawmakers is how to keep a “soft” border between Northern Ireland, which belongs to the U.K., and the independent Republic of Ireland, which will remain in the E.U. May has so far been unable to find a solution that has satisfied both her ruling Conservative Party and the European Union.
A sizable bloc of Conservative lawmakers bucked her authority and joined the opposition Labour Party in rejecting her deal Tuesday night, despite May’s warnings that a defeat of her agreement would mean frustrating the will of the voters.
“If this deal is not passed tonight, Brexit might be lost,” May said in the House of Commons, in a croaking voice that showed the hard lobbying and haggling she has been engaged in.
“The government has been defeated again by an enormous majority, and they must now accept their deal…is clearly dead and does not have the support of this house,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said.