London – Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday suffered a humiliating defeat over her plan to withdraw Britain from the European Union, thrusting the country further into political chaos with only 10 weeks to go until it is scheduled to leave the bloc.
The 432-to-202 vote to reject her plan was one of the biggest defeats in the House of Commons for a prime minister in recent British history, and it underscores how under Ms. May, the prime minister’s office has lost ground in shaping important policy. Now factions in Parliament will seek to seize the initiative, an unpredictable new stage in the process of withdrawing from Europe, known as Brexit.
Before the vote, lawmakers in both the Conservative and Labour parties were being urged to put country before party to resolve the stalemate. Yet the problem remains that, even if they did, there is no clear path forward that can command a majority in the Commons.
In her final appeal in Parliament, Mrs. May impressed on the lawmakers the importance of the vote facing them. “The responsibility on each and every one of us at this moment is profound,” she said, “for this is a historic decision that will set the future of our country for generations.”
Like most others, though, the prime minister has no easy answers about the way forward. She has signaled that she will appeal to the European Union in Brussels for concessions and try again to win parliamentary approval, but the bloc is unlikely to grant her any.
Some cabinet members are pressing for a different course, calling for nonbinding “indicative votes,” in which members of Parliament can freely express their preferences for the various Brexit plans being bandied about.
The hope is that Mrs. May’s plan might emerge from that process with the highest level of support.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, is widely expected to table a vote of no confidence, which if successful could trigger a general election. But few analysts believe that he can muster the numbers to win.
Negotiating the withdrawal from the European Union has been Mrs. May’s singular focus since she became prime minister, displacing social problems like housing and health care.
But her failure to build consensus behind a single vision of Britain’s future outside the 28-nation bloc has allowed painful divides in the country to deepen.
With no consensus behind any one pathway, and a vanishing window for further negotiation, more radical solutions are rising to the fore.