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Parliament rejects Brexit deal, leaving May to scramble for a plan B

Just 10 weeks before Britain is due to leave the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to press ahead despite the overwhelming rejection of her Brexit deal in Parliament on Tuesday. If the UK leaves the EU without an agreement, many worry it could plunge the economy in recession or worse. Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote joins Judy Woodruff for more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, British Prime Minister Theresa May's plan for Brexit, the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union, was soundly rejected in Parliament today.

    Now the prospect of the U.K. leaving the E.U. with no deal in place becomes more real.

    And, tonight, amid political chaos in the U.K., the leader of Scotland's government has called for a second Brexit referendum.

    Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote reports from London.

  • Man:

    The ayes to the right 202, the no's to the left 432, so the no's have it.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    The vote came just 10 weeks before Britain is due to leave the European Union. But despite the overwhelming rejection in Parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to press ahead.

  • Theresa May:

    I believe we have a duty to deliver on the democratic decision of the British people, and to do so in a way that brings our country together.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Today's vote, dubbed the meaningful vote, came after two long years of bitter negotiations in Brussels, the seat of the E.U.

    It's also another major blow to May's leadership, one of the biggest defeats a British prime minister has endured in modern history, and comes just a month after her own party tried, but failed to oust her. May had postponed this vote from December to try to drum up more support, but the month didn't matter in the end.

    Critics from May's own Conservative Party argued the divorce agreement falls short of implementing Britain's 2016 vote to withdraw from the bloc.

  • Jacob Rees-Mogg:

    People voted to leave. They didn't vote for a deal. They voted to leave. And this deal doesn't actually make us leave cleanly.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    The main sticking point of Brexit has been the so-called Irish backstop. It aims to prevent the reintroduction of border controls between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, which is part of the E.U., which the U.K. will be leaving.

    Right now, vehicles and goods can cross freely.

    Arlene Foster is the leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists, a key part of May's governing coalition.

  • Arlene Foster:

    The backstop was something that we could not accept. It does violence to the union. It separates us from the rest of the United Kingdom in a very, very obvious way.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    There are also fears May's Brexit deal could actually bind Britain to the E.U.'s trade rules indefinitely, and constrain it from forging its own bilateral deals.

  • Nick Thomas-Symonds:

    I wish there was a political declaration that actually did point a way to a future that secured our economy, our jobs and our futures, and wasn't the meaningless text, the leap in the dark that it actually is. The country deserves so much better than this totally inadequate agreement.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Passions ran high during today's debate in the run-up to the vote.

  • Man:

    All they're doing by causing me to intervene is taking time away. Not necessary. Rather foolish. Thoroughly counterproductive.

    Jeremy Corbyn.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Following the vote, Labor Leader Jeremy Corbyn filed a no confidence motion.

  • Jeremy Corbyn:

    The people need to be able to take back control, and a general election would give them the opportunity to decide who their M.P.s were, who their government was, and who was negotiating on their behalf.

    And it would give that new government a mandate, a mandate that is need to break deadlock that has been brought to this house by this government.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    If Britain leaves the E.U. on March the 29th without an agreement, many worry it could plunge the economy into recession, or worse.

    Supermarkets across the U.K. are already stockpiling goods and raising prices amid the growing uncertainty. E.U. leaders insist they will not renegotiate any part of the nearly 600-page exit deal. After the historic drubbing, Prime Minister May again said it was Parliament's job to make good on Brexit.

  • Theresa May:

    I ask members on all sides of the House to listen to the British people, who want this issue settled, and to work with the government do just that.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Prime Minister Theresa May now has until Monday to devise a plan B proposal, bring that back to this Parliament, and get it through.

    But that would appear as unlikely to happen as today's deal — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Ryan, does she have a plan B?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Not really.

    I think, going into this vote, her idea was to push through this, go back to Brussels and say, look, they didn't support this. Let's make some concessions.

    But given the margin of defeat here, maybe she won't race back to Brussels. She's talked about — after the vote, she talked about reaching out to the Parliament, to all parties in the Parliament, to see what could be done done, i.e., maybe really revising her proposal from what it is now to something entirely different, maybe a Norway-style relationship with the European Union.

    So the answer, real quickly, is, no, she doesn't.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So what is the alternative then? So she comes — is she going to have to scramble then and come up with something to present? Is that what it adds up to?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Well, the very first thing she has to do is keep her job, because the leader of the opposition has tabled this motion of no confidence.

    And if she doesn't survive, that she is no longer prime minister. At least she has to spend the next two weeks trying to keep her job, and if she fails that, then there could be a general election. So that's what she's got to do for the next 24 hours. She couldn't even go to Brussels if she wants.

    The alternatives after that aren't good ones. She can try and forge a new deal. Given the margin, again, not so easy. Or she could — but a lot of people have really advised against within her own government — she could suggest a referendum, a second vote, put to the British people and say, OK, this is the deal on the table. Do you support this?

    That would be a really risky move, but that would be one way to find out what the British people support, and possibly a way to break the deadlock here in the Parliament.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Ryan, is it known what a majority of the British public would support?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    No, we don't know what they want. We know that, two years ago, they voted to exit the European Union, but we don't know how they feel about this particular deal or what they would like to see.

    We know that they don't like what was put forward to them today. There have been polls that showed that, if this was put in front of them, then they, too, would vote it down. We know that the Parliament doesn't like it. But what they're for isn't clear.

    That's one of the reasons why people say there should be this second vote, where people have an opportunity to weigh in on what's in front of them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it is quite a spectacle, and I know you're going to continue to report on it.

    Ryan Chilcote, outside the Parliament in London, thank you, Ryan.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Thank you.

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