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May's Brexit withdrawal deal rejected a 3rd time in Parliament

Lawmakers rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal for a third time on Friday, sounding its probable death knell and leaving Britain's withdrawal from the European Union in turmoil on the very day it was supposed to leave the bloc.

British lawmakers have turned down a 3rd attempt by a margin of 58 votes

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks in the Parliament in London on Friday during a special sitting, during which lawmakers rejected her Brexit deal. (Reuters TV)

Lawmakers rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal for a third time on Friday, sounding its probable death knell and leaving Britain's withdrawal from the European Union in turmoil on the very day it was supposed to leave the bloc.

The decision to reject a stripped-down version of May's divorce deal has left it totally unclear how, when or even whether Britain will leave the EU, and plunges the three-year Brexit crisis to a deeper level of uncertainty.

After a special sitting of Parliament, MPs voted 344-286 against May's 585-page EU withdrawal agreement, agreed after two years of tortuous negotiations with the bloc.

May had told Parliament the vote was the last opportunity to ensure Brexit would take place and cautioned that if the deal failed, any further delay to Brexit would probably be a long one beyond April 12.

"If we do not vote for this motion today, people will ask: 'Why did you not vote for Brexit?'"

The House was voting Friday on the exit agreement but not a separate, shorter declaration on future ties, which is also part of the agreed-upon divorce deal. The entire Brexit package was previously defeated twice, by margins of 230 and then 149 votes.

Calls for May to step aside

May agreed with the EU to delay Brexit from the originally planned March 29 until April 12, with a further delay until May 22 on offer if May could get her divorce package ratified by lawmakers this week.

She expressed "profound regret" the government hadn't been able to deliver on its promise by March 29.

Within minutes of the vote, European Council head and summit chair Donald Tusk tweeted that EU leaders will meet on April 10 to discuss Britain's departure from the bloc.

The EU executive, the commission, said a "no-deal" exit on April 12 was now "a likely scenario."

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, again panned the withdrawal deal and after the vote called for May to step aside. (EPA-EFE)

Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn continued to assail the deal in Friday's session.

"I urge the House not to be cajoled on this third-time lucky strategy, and vote it down today."

After the vote, Corbyn and Scottish National Party Leader Ian Blackford rose to urge May to step down, each arguing a general election should follow.

Pro-Brexit Conservative Steve Baker also said it was time for her to exit.

"This must be the final defeat for Theresa May's deal. It's finished. And we must move on," he said.

But May's spokesperson said the smaller margin of defeat this time showed that things were moving in the right direction.

"Clearly it wasn't the result we wanted," the spokesperson told reporters. "But, that said, we have had a number of senior Conservative colleagues who have felt able to vote with the government today ... clearly there's also more work to do but in point of fact, we are at least going in the right direction."

It appeared May had at least some momentum ahead of the vote.

Former Brexit minister Dominic Raab said Friday morning he would vote for the government's withdrawal agreement to avoid the risk of Britain having to seek a longer delay to its exit from the EU.

Dominic Raab resigned as Brexit secretary in November, but said Friday he was voting for May's withdrawal agreement in part so Britain doesn't have to field candidates in upcoming European Parliament elections. (Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA-EFE)

Raab, who quit in opposition to the deal in November, said his vote did not mean he would definitely support the government when it seeks approval to ratify the complete exit package.

"I will vote for the motion ... to achieve two essential outcomes: stave off a longer extension and prevent European elections in May," Raab told Parliament.

But all reports suggested the 10-member Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland, which propped up the government after the last election in a supply-and-confidence arrangement, were not in favour.

May's promise to leave sways few

May on Wednesday pledged to quit if her deal was passed but even that failed to immediately win over many Brexit supporters in her party.

But the pledge has made it harder for opposition lawmakers to back the deal, Labour lawmaker Lisa Nandy suggested earlier Friday.

"We don't know who is going to be prime minister at that stage or what sort of commitments they will expect to be bound by, so she has made it far more difficult for Labour MPs to support this deal, to be perfectly honest," Nandy told Sky News.   

A demonstrator in support of Leave is seen outside Parliament in London on Friday. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

Also on Wednesday, members of Parliament held a series of indicative votes on various proposals for Britain's future relationship with the EU to try and build a consensus, but none secured a majority.

May referred to that process after the defeat on Friday.

"I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House," she said. "This House has rejected 'no deal.' It has rejected 'no Brexit.' On Wednesday, it rejected all the variations of the deal on the table."

"This government will continue to press the case for the orderly Brexit that the result of the referendum demands," she added.

A second round of indicative votes is expected on Monday.

Opponents fear Brexit will make Britain poorer and divide the West as it grapples with both the unconventional U.S. presidency of Donald Trump and growing assertiveness from Russia and China.

CBC's Margaret Evans reports the toll Brexit talks have taken on the nation's psyche:

Britain's electorate voted by 52 per cent in favour of leaving the European Union back in 2016. A divisive start to a process that's only unravelled further since then. Margaret Evans takes us through its roller-coaster of a timeline, and the major toll it's taken on the nation's psyche. 2:46

French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking as Parliament voted, said the EU needed to accelerate no-deal planning. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that unless Britain came up with a plan, there would be a "hard" Brexit.

"One of the two routes to an orderly Brexit seems now to be closed," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters. "This leaves only the other route, which is for the British to make clear what they want before April 12.

"The risk of a no-deal Brexit is very real," he said.

Thousands of people opposed to Britain delaying its departure marched through central London on Friday.

Large groups gathered in bright sunshine outside Parliament, waving Union Jack flags and chanting, "Out means out" and "Bye, Bye EU." Many held signs accusing May of treachery.

Amid a heavy police presence, some blocked the road outside, shouting "we will not be moved" and "what do we want? Brexit? When do we want it? Now."

With files from CBC News and Reuters

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