Parliament Narrowly Passes Amendment Ruling Out a No-Deal Brexit

British parliament on Wednesday approved an amendment prohibiting a so-called no-deal Brexit, in which the U.K. would exit the E.U. without first securing alternative trade and immigration arrangements.

The amendment, which passed 312–308, came one day after Prime Minister Theresa May suffered yet another defeat in her ongoing effort to secure parliamentary approval for the Brexit deal she painstakingly negotiated with the European leaders following the 2016 referendum in which U.K. voters decided to leave the E.U.

Having now rejected the default position that the U.K. will exit the E.U. on March 29 regardless of whether a deal has been secured, Parliament is expected to vote Thursday on an amendment that would extend the Brexit deadline until May 22.

Should parliament vote to extend the deadline, May must secure the support of all 27 E.U. member states for the extension before March 29. But E.U. officials have thus far maintained that an extension will not be granted for the sole purpose of continuing negotiations. Liam Fox, Britain’s international-trade secretary, warned lawmakers that the E.U. would likely demand further concessions before approving an extension, “and it is not clear what price the E.U. might extract” in return.

While Wednesday’s vote represents a concerted effort to avoid a so-called crash out, in which the E.U. would be thrust into economic uncertainty, it is legally non-binding, which means that should the attempt to extend the Brexit deadline fail, a no-deal Brexit remains the legal default.

“If Parliament votes repeatedly to say ‘the moon is made of cheese,’ it doesn’t mean the moon is made of cheese,” Rob Ford, a professor of politics at the University of Manchester, told the Washington Post of the vote’s significance. “Parliament can say, repeatedly, that they don’t want no deal, but the legal reality is that no deal will happen unless they vote for something else to happen.”

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