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Britain's PM Tries to Save Brexit Deal After Postponing House of Commons Vote


British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at 10 Downing Street in London, Dec. 10, 2018.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is meeting with European leaders Tuesday as she seeks to keep alive her deal for Britain's withdrawal from the European Union after calling off a vote in parliament.

Her spokesman said that in productive talks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte the two agreed to work through the situation, and a new vote in Britain's House of Commons would take place before January 21.

May was also due to meet Tuesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and also with European Council President Donald Tusk who made clear in a Twitter post he has no intention of renegotiating the deal.

Britain is to leave the European Union March 29th.

WATCH: Brexit vote

Britain in Political Chaos as Embattled PM Pulls Brexit Vote
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May postponed a House of Commons vote Monday on her Brexit agreement, which took months of negotiations with Brussels to conclude.

If the vote went forward, lawmakers were set to reject the withdrawal agreement. Defeat would force May out of Downing Street and possibly trigger the fall of the Conservative government.

Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn dubbed the postponement a humiliation. He said the government had "lost control of events." He told the House of Commons the prime minister should make way for a new government. "The government is in disarray… and people are in a state of despair." Opposition leaders were reportedly discussing tabling either a motion of no confidence in the government or one censuring the prime minister.

Corbyn also secured an emergency session Tuesday to discuss May's move to postpone the vote.

FILE - British Labor party leader Jeremy Corbyn talks to journalists outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Sept. 27, 2018.
FILE - British Labor party leader Jeremy Corbyn talks to journalists outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Sept. 27, 2018.

​A clearly irritated Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, criticized the delay and manner of it being announced, calling the move after three days of debate "deeply discourteous." He raised some potentially difficult procedural hurdles the government will need to navigate before postponing the vote.

Immediately on learning of the postponement, the European Commission ruled out re-negotiations as did some exasperated European national leaders. "This deal is the best and only deal possible. We will not renegotiate the deal that is on the table right now. That is very clear," said an EU spokesman.

"Our position has therefore not changed and as far as we're concerned, the UK is leaving the EU on the 29 March 2019. We are prepared for all scenarios." The European Parliament's coordinator with the EU's negotiators, Guy Verhofstadt, voiced frustration, saying "I can't follow this anymore." He added, "It is time they made up their minds."

May's contentious deal, which tries to square the circle between Britons who want to remain in the European Union and Brexiters who want a clean, sharp break, would see Britain locked in a customs union with the European Union for several years while it negotiates a more permanent, but vaguely defined, free trade settlement with its largest trading partner.

In the temporary customs union, Britain would be unable to influence EU laws, regulations, and product standards it would have to observe. It would be not be able to implement free trade deals with non-EU countries, and Northern Ireland would be treated differently than other parts of Britain in order to avoid customs and immigration checks on the border with the Republic of Ireland.

That provision angers the province's pro-British Unionists, who fear Northern Ireland's ties with London will be diminished. May's minority government relies on the backing of 10 Unionist lawmakers to get legislation passed. The Unionists voiced concerns that May is trying to play for time. Their leader in the House of Commons, Nigel Dodds, cast doubt on her credibility and said the postponement was a "humiliation and a shambles."

Northern Ireland's Unionists aren't the only ones furious with May over the deal, and doubtful the delay would change anything substantially. More than 100 Conservative lawmakers had announced their intention to vote against the withdrawal agreement, and analysts had calculated that had the vote had gone ahead Tuesday, May would have been lucky to secure the support of 185 lawmakers with 409 voting against. No British prime minister has ever survived a parliamentary defeat of such a staggering margin.

Anti-Brexit demonstrators hold placards outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, Dec. 10, 2018.
Anti-Brexit demonstrators hold placards outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, Dec. 10, 2018.

​Even loyalist lawmakers voiced privately how stunned they were at the course of events and May's indecision.

The drama in London played out as the European Court of Justice said in an emergency ruling Monday that Britain can stop the Brexit process without approval of other member states. "The United Kingdom is free to revoke unilaterally the notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU," the ECJ said. But the court added that it could only do so as the result of a House of Commons vote, a referendum or a general election.

The ruling has boosted the hopes of Remainers that Brexit can be reversed. "It is time to put the whole issue back to the public," said Chris Leslie, a senior Labor lawmaker.

While May loyalists reacted to the postponement with relief, hardline Brexiters in the British parliament as well as Remainers said the prime minister was only delaying the inevitable, regardless of whether she manages to get Brussels to agree to some changes. They said any amendments to the withdrawal agreement wouldn't be sufficient to secure a House of Commons majority.

"Putting off the vote won't change anything," said Peter Bone, a Conservative lawmaker.

It is unclear when a Brexit vote in the House of Commons might now take place. Some government managers said the vote could happen next week or even be delayed until next month.

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