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With May’s plan defeated, could a no-deal Brexit be ‘ruinous’ for the UK?

Britain's Parliament soundly rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s revised Brexit plan. May had secured some concessions from the European Union over the most contentious parts of the agreement, but they weren’t enough for opponents. With less than three weeks until the scheduled date for Brexit, the UK’s trajectory remains unclear. Judy Woodruff talks to special correspondent Ryan Chilcote.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Britain's Parliament has issued a stunning new statement on Brexit tonight: It won't buy the prime minister's latest plan to leave the European Union. What it will buy instead is anything but clear, after rejecting her plan by nearly 150 votes.

    Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote reports from London.

  • Theresa May:

    If this vote is not passed tonight, if this deal is not passed, then Brexit could be lost.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    The future of Britain's exit from the European Union was on the line in day-long debate, as was Prime Minister Theresa May's political career. May spoke with a hoarse voice that underscored her exhaustion from a last-ditch effort to push her amended Brexit deal through Parliament.

  • Theresa May:

    I believe it is absolutely imperative for this House that we meet the decision that was taken by the British people in June 2016, that we deliver on that referendum, and that we deliver Brexit for the British people.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Her original Brexit plan suffered a resounding defeat by a historic margin back in January.

  • Man:

    The ayes to the right 242, the no's to the left 432.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    With that weighing on her mind, the prime minister made an 11th-hour trip to Strasbourg, France, last night to seek new concessions from the European Commission's president. They reached legally binding changes on one of the deal's main sticking points: the so-called Irish backstop that would ensure the border between E.U. member Ireland and the United Kingdom's Northern Ireland remains open after Brexit. Britain's objective: for the U.K. not to be tied to the E.U. and its trade rules indefinitely, should they be unable to agree on the nature of their future relationship. Right now, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is all but invisible. That means cars and goods can cross freely. May's original Brexit strategy would have kept that border open.

  • Theresa May:

    A joint instrument with comparable legal weight to the withdrawal agreement will guarantee that the E.U. cannot act with the intent of applying the backstop indefinitely.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    But that assurance also came with a warning

  • Jean-Claude Juncker:

    In politics, sometimes you get a second chance. It is what we do with this second chance that counts, because there will be no third chance. There will be no further interpretation of the interpretations, and no further assurances of the reassurances.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Then, this morning, Britain's attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, took the wind out of May's sails, issuing a legal assessment that the changes reduce, but do not eliminate the risk the U.K. could remain trapped in a trade union with the E.U.

  • Geoffrey Cox:

    The question for the House is whether, in the light of these improvements, as a political judgment, the House should now enter into those arrangements. However, the matters of law affecting withdrawal can only inform what is essentially a political decision that each of us must make.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    The magnitude of that political decision fueled passionate debate in Parliament.

  • Man:

    The honorable gentleman's cheeky, chappy chortling and chuckling away from a sedentary position, but it's been made perfectly clear that the prime minister's not giving way.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Opposition Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was among those who rejected the deal.

  • Jeremy Corbyn:

    After three months of running down the clock, the prime minister has, despite very extensive delays, achieved not a single change to the withdrawal agreement. Not one single word has changed.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Opponents again zeroed in on the so-called Irish backstop.

  • Man:

    If, in December 2020, alternate arrangements aren't found for the backstop, we will have a hotel California Brexit, where we will have checked out, but we won't be leaving.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    And, critically, many of May's own allies, like Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, refused to support the divorce agreement. With her coalition crumbling around her, Prime Minister May's Brexit strategy failed to win passage.

  • Man:

    The ayes to the right 242, the no's to the left 391. So the no's have it. The no's have it.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    This evening, Prime Minister May voiced her own frustration after the fateful vote.

  • Theresa May:

    I profoundly regret the decision that this House has taken tonight. I continue to believe that by far the best outcome is that the United Kingdom leaves the European Union in an orderly fashion with a deal.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    As for the European Union and its leaders, they're saying, look, there have been months and months of negotiations. The U.K. decided to leave the European Union two-and-a-half years ago. They're holding firm, and they're saying they're not going to renegotiate the terms of the U.K.'s exit from the E.U. — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Ryan, what a spectacle. Tell us what's next.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Well, tomorrow, the Parliament is going to vote on whether the U.K. should exit the European Union without a deal with the E.U. She doesn't think that's a good idea. That said, there are people who support Brexit that think it's a good idea, that actually the U.K. would have more autonomy to pursue the kind of trade deals it would like the pursue.

    Now, if that didn't get supported, if the parliamentarians say, no, we do have to have a deal, then on Thursday, they will have another vote where they will be asked whether the deadline, the March 29 deadline, when the U.K. is supposed to leave the E.U., whether that should be extended, pushed back.

    So, two more votes coming quite possibly this week.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so, Ryan, I know there are a number of directions this could go, but what are the options after this?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    So the two logical options are, one, that the U.K. chooses to pursue a new deal with the European Union. Now, right now, the E.U. is saying they're not going to renegotiate the exit terms. However, the E.U. would love if the U.K. came back with a softer Brexit, if they wanted to leave the E.U., but have a closer relationship after that with the European Union.

    That would require the prime minister to reach across party lines, if you will, to the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, and do some kind of deal that they have already said that they would support, a softer Brexit.

    That seems pretty difficult to imagine. You know, they really don't like one another. There isn't that kind of bipartisan love, if you will, to see something like that happen. The other option is that this goes back to the British people, a second referendum. They could be asked, do you support the prime minister's deal that she reached with the European Union?

    Obviously, it's just been rejected by the Parliament, but the people would be asked. Or do you think the U.K., in fact, now that we know what we know, should remain in the European Union? Those are really the only two options on the table — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The drama continues.

    Ryan Chilcote, reporting for us from London, thank you, Ryan.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Thank you.

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