The House of Commons voted Thursday to delay Britain's scheduled departure from the European Union as the government struggles to get sufficient support for the draft divorce deal.
Parliament overwhelmingly backed a government motion to seek an extension to the two-year withdrawal process which would have seen Britain automatically leave the 28-member bloc on March 29.
(A placard showing an image of the Prime Minister Theresa May wearing a eye mask with the words 'We're Being Robbed' outside the Houses of Parliament on March 14, 2019 in London.)[Getty/Kyodo]
Prime Minister Theresa May is now expected to bring her twice-defeated deal back to the House of Commons for a third vote by March 20.
If the deal is approved, she will seek a short delay from the European Union until June 30. This is in order to pass the necessary legislation and avoid Britain taking part in European Parliament elections. A decision on an extension is likely to be taken at a European Union summit on March 21.
If the deal is voted down again, Brussels is likely to require a clear purpose for granting any extension.
And May has warned this could mean a lengthy extension and Britain taking part in European Parliament elections. She called on the House to "face up to the consequences" and come to a decision.
If the deal is defeated for a third time, the government will grant two weeks of debate following the EU summit for the House of Commons to try and find agreement around a different plan.
On Wednesday evening, the House of Commons voted to prevent Britain leaving the European Union without a deal in any circumstances.
The Withdrawal Agreement has now been rejected overwhelmingly by parliament twice amid concerns the Irish backstop would keep Britain "trapped" in a customs union with the European Union.
Reports suggest the government is seeking to clarify the legal position around the backstop and Britain's ability to leave the mechanism unilaterally in order to win round rebels within its own ruling center-right Conservative party.
The agreement took two years to negotiate and covers exit payments and citizens' rights. It envisages a standstill transition to the end of December 2020. And if no future deal has been reached by this stage then the transition could be extended or the backstop comes into force.
The political declaration accompanying the agreement envisages a free trade area in goods with deep regulatory and customs cooperation.