LONDON (AP) — WHAT’S HAPPENING
Prime Minister Theresa May is trying to renegotiate Britain’s divorce deal with the European Union, after Parliament voted to alter a contentious proposal for the Irish border. The move was a victory for May, who managed to unite the warring pro-Brexit and pro-EU wings of her Conservative Party and secure a majority in the House of Commons, two weeks after lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected her Brexit deal.
But EU leaders are adamant that the agreement can’t be reopened, so May’s chances of success look slim.
By law, Britain will leave the EU on March 29. If a deal is in place, very little will change immediately. Britain will remain inside the EU’s rules and institutions during a transition period until a new trading relationship is in place.
If there is no deal, existing trade agreements with the EU will evaporate overnight. Many businesses fear economic chaos, and warn of shortages of foodstuffs and other essential supplies.
Parliament is divided over Brexit, but most members oppose leaving without a deal, and on Tuesday they approved a motion ruling out a “no-deal” Brexit. But the vote is not legally binding, and Parliament also defeated tougher measures that tried to give lawmakers concrete powers to stop Britain crashing out of the EU, either by finding a new plan or by postponing the departure date.
The crisis has been building since Britain voted in 2016 to leave the 28-nation EU. In March 2017, Britain triggered the official two-year countdown to exit, and in November 2018 May’s government and the EU sealed a legally binding withdrawal agreement.
The agreement must be approved by the European and British parliaments — and British legislators on both sides of the Brexit divide hate the deal, a compromise that keeps Britain outside the EU with no say but still subject to the rules and the obligations of membership at least until the end of 2020.
The border is crucial to the divorce deal because it will be the only land frontier between the U.K. and the EU after Brexit, and because the free flow of people and goods underpins both the local economy and Northern Ireland’s peace process.
Solving the intractable border problem is key to securing an orderly British exit from the EU.