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British Parliament Decides to Ask for Delay to Brexit

The British Parliament has voted to ask for a delay to the U.K.’s exit from the European Union in a bid for more time to get squabbling lawmakers behind a deal on the terms of the withdrawal.

The U.K. is currently due to leave the E.U. on March 29, but Thursday evening’s 412-202 vote in Parliament would push Brexit back to at least June 30, providing that the rest of the 27 E.U. countries agree to the delay. The E.U. will demand that the U.K. specify how the additional time will be used to finalize a withdrawal agreement, and it may demand a longer postponement.

For the business community, including the entertainment industry, Thursday’s vote does not change their immediate status but prolongs 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.

Thursday’s vote in the House of Commons capped three days of chaos and humiliation for Prime Minister Theresa May, who has struggled to get even her own Conservative Party lawmakers to back her proposed Brexit deal, let alone the opposition Labour Party and smaller groupings.

On Tuesday, Parliament overwhelmingly rejected May’s framework deal for the second time in three months, and on Wednesday, it voted to forbid her from pulling Britain out of the European Union with no deal at all, a scenario that most business and political leaders warn would precipitate economic disaster. If Britain were to “crash out” of the E.U. in that way, it would be forced to trade with many other nations under less favorable World Trade Organization rules.

It’s possible May might bring her plan to Parliament for yet a third vote next week if she is able to forge a compromise with the dissenters in her ranks. But critics called that an absurd course of action.

“The idea of bringing back the deal for a third time, without even the pretense that anything has changed, other than of course using up more time, is an act of desperation,” Keir Starmer, a Labour spokesman, said.

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