It’s a huge day for Brexit — but the divorce deal appears doomed

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By Rachel Elbaum

LONDON — For nearly two years, British Prime Minister Theresa May doggedly pursued a divorce agreement with the E.U.

After much back and forth, a hard-won agreement was negotiated in November. But that may have been the easy part.

On Tuesday, the deal looks set to be roundly rejected by British lawmakers, with many members of May’s own party expected to vote against it.

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Such a defeat for May’s government in one of the most consequential parliamentary votes for decades throws up a big question mark over what’s next for Britain as the clock ticks down to its departure from the E.U. in 73 days.

The U.K. has a deeply entrenched relationship with the 28-country bloc, with laws and regulations covering everything from international trade to workplace rules and even cellphone contracts.

Though May is keenly aware of the strong opposition to her deal, she still spent much of Monday warning lawmakers that Brexit itself would be in danger if Parliament voted it down.

An anti-Brexit demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Monday.Tolga Akmen / AFP – Getty Images

She highlighted that some politicians wanted to “delay or even stop Brexit and who will use every device available to them to do so.”

A day earlier, May warned that failing to deliver Brexit would be “catastrophic” for democracy. Ministers in her government also said that thwarting the outcome of the 2016 referendum could lead to rise in far-right populism.

The heart of the problem is the lack of consensus in May’s own Conservative Party — and Parliament as a whole — for any one particular type of withdrawal from the E.U.

Some lawmakers want no Brexit at all, others want a closer relationship than May’s deal offers, while still others feel that her proposal doesn’t go far enough in severing the links between the two.

There are also concerns for what Brexit means for the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., and the Irish Republic, which is a separate country and will remain part of the E.U.

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The border is currently more or less invisible and there are no checkpoints. Some fear the reinstatement of a physical boundary risks a return to “The Troubles,” rekindling tensions that might spill over into violence. A 1998 peace deal ended decades of conflict.

If the chaos surrounding May’s deal sounds familiar, it’s with good reason. Lawmakers were originally scheduled to vote on the deal on Dec. 11. Her government pushed it off, hoping to both change politicians’ minds as well as to score new concessions from the E.U.

But May’s approach doesn’t seem to have worked, with the E.U. consistently saying that any renegotiation was off the table, lawmakers as entrenched in their views as ever and the prime minister widely expected to lose Tuesday’s vote.


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