MPs reject Brexit deal for second time
BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit withdrawal deal has been voted down by politicians in the House of Commons 391-242.
It's the second time her deal has failed.
From here politicians will vote on whether to crash out of the European Union without a deal or delay the divorce.
Before the vote Labour Party opposition's Brexit chief Keir Starmer said the Brexit strategy was "in tatters".
"The Attorney-General has confirmed that there have been no significant changes to the (EU) withdrawal agreement despite the legal documents that were agreed last night," Starmer said in a statement.
"The government's strategy is now in tatters."
Attorney-General Geoffrey Cox advised on Tuesday that a revised divorce deal with the European Union had not given Britain legal means of exiting the so-called backstop arrangement unilaterally if "intractable differences" arose.
Britain will not get a post-Brexit transition period unless the House of Commons ratifies the divorce package, the bloc's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Tuesday before parliament voted the deal down.
Ms May had secured the "compromised" Brexit changes after she made an unscheduled trip to Strasbourg for face-to-face talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on the eve of a crucial vote.
In a late night joint news conference, Ms May and Mr Juncker had claimed to have reached valuable consensus on the thorny issue of the Irish border - the largest stumbling block to Brexit - without having to unravel the overall previously agreed 585-page divorce plan.
"In politics, sometimes you get a second chance," Juncker said.
"It is what you do with this second chance that counts because there will be no third chance. Let's be crystal clear about the choice - it is this deal or Brexit might not happen at all."
His words were aimed squarely at British MPs and Conservative Brexiteers who have been vocal in the debate.
At the start of the late night talks, EU diplomats were convinced Britain's fallback position would be to simply apply for more time even though the EU had made it clear that there was no more time, Britain's Brexit time was up.
The prime minister's de facto deputy Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington trumpeted the partial victory first, revealing she had won "legally binding" changes from the EU "that strengthen and improve the withdrawal agreement" particularly over the contentious so-called Northern Ireland backstop question.
He said significantly the agreement now had confirmation that the EU "cannot try to trap the UK in the backstop indefinitely and that doing so would be an explicit breach of the legally-binding commitments that both sides have agreed.
Ms May explained the changes offered a mechanism in the deal designed to keep an open border between Britain's Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU until a permanent new trading relationship could be put in place.
"Now is the time to come together to back this improved Brexit deal and deliver on the instruction of the British people," she said.
Britain is due to split from the EU on March 29 but for months had been unable to reach parliamentary consensus on the terms. That raised the prospect of a no-deal Brexit that the government warned would lead to major disruption to business.
Mr Juncker made clear last night this was Britain's last chance; May already realised this and since the weekend had been speaking directly by phone to eight EU national leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"What we have secured is very clearly that the backstop cannot be indefinite," Ms May said. "Cannot become permanent. It is only temporary. If it is the case that we were ever to get into the backstop."
Critically, Mr Juncker revealed he had spoken to Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who he said had indicated he was "prepared to back this approach in the interests of an overall deal".
Britain's Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn dismissed the latest deal and had called on MPs to reject it.
"This evening's agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes Theresa May promised parliament, and whipped her MPs to vote for," he said at the time.
"Since her Brexit deal was so overwhelmingly rejected, the Prime Minister has recklessly run down the clock, failed to effectively negotiate with the EU and refused to find common ground for a deal parliament could support."