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UK lawmakers vote against no-deal Brexit, now aim for delay

Published
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to lawmakers in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday March 13, 2019. In a tentative first step toward ending months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted Wednesday to block the country from leaving the European Union without a divorce agreement, triggering an attempt to delay that departure, currently due to take place on March 29. (Mark Duffy/UK Parliament via AP)

LONDON (AP) — In a tentative first step toward ending months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted Wednesday to block the country from leaving the European Union without a divorce agreement, triggering an attempt to delay that departure, currently due to take place on March 29.

Parliament is scheduled to decide Thursday whether to put the brakes on Brexit, a vote set up after lawmakers dealt yet another defeat to Prime Minister Theresa May amid a crisis over Britain's departure from the EU.

The lawmakers' 321-278 vote has political but not legal force, and does not entirely rule out a chaotic no-deal departure for Britain. But it might ease jitters spreading across the EU after lawmakers resoundingly rejected May's divorce deal on Tuesday. Exiting the EU without a deal could mean major disruptions for businesses and people in the U.K. and the 27 remaining EU countries.

In chaotic scenes that revealed how May's authority has been eroded by Brexit battles, more than a dozen pro-EU government ministers abstained rather than vote with her against ruling out no-deal.

Speaking with a raspy voice after weeks of relentless pressure, May hinted that she plans to make a third attempt to get lawmakers to support her Brexit deal, which they have already rejected twice.

She said Parliament faced a "fundamental choice" — a "short, technical extension" if lawmakers approve a divorce deal with the EU in the next week, or a much longer delay to Brexit if they don't.

The EU warned that voting against no-deal Brexit wasn't enough to stop it. By law, Britain will leave the EU on March 29, with or without a deal, unless it cancels Brexit or secures a delay.

"There are only two ways to leave the EU: with or without a deal," a European Commission official said. "The EU is prepared for both. To take no deal off the table, it is not enough to vote against no deal - you have to agree to a deal."

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the unresolved situation.

Earlier, chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier warned that "the risk of a no-deal has never been higher."

As Britain teeters ever closer to the edge of the Brexit cliff, lawmakers are trying to seize control from the divided and squabbling government, although it's far from clear if they can agree on a way forward. There are competing factions that support May's deal, a "softer" deal that would keep close ties with the EU, a no-deal Brexit, or even a new referendum on Britain's EU membership.

Parliament likely will agree to delay Brexit, but it would need EU approval. The bloc — openly exasperated by Britain's continuing Brexit crisis — warned that the U.K. would need to present a strong reason for any extension.

"I am against every extension — whether an extension of one day, one week, even 24 hours — if it's not based on a clear opinion of the House of Commons for something," said the European Parliament's chief Brexit official, Guy Verhofstadt. "Please make up your minds in London, because this uncertainty cannot continue."

The bloc is also reluctant to consider a delay that goes beyond elections to the European Parliament in late May, because it would mean Britain would have to participate in the polls even as it prepares to leave.

Both Britain and the EU have ramped up planning for a no-deal Brexit, which would rip up decades of rules for travel and trade between Britain and the bloc. Economists say it could cause huge upheaval, with customs checks causing gridlock at U.K. ports, new tariffs triggering sudden price increases and red tape for everyone from truckers to tourists.

The U.K. government announced its plans for the Irish border in the event of a no-deal Brexit, saying it wouldn't impose new checks, duties or controls on goods coming from EU member Ireland into Northern Ireland. It also said it wouldn't slap tariffs on 87 percent of goods coming into Britain from the EU — though there would be new levies on imports of some items including meat and cars.

The tariffs, intended to be temporary, wouldn't apply to goods crossing from Ireland to Northern Ireland, raising fears the plan would spark a rise in smuggling.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said under the proposals, "Northern Ireland will become a backdoor to the European single market and I think that in a matter of months that will lead to the need for checks at Northern Ireland's ports."

"I don't think the U.K.'s proposals will be workable for very long," he said during a visit to Washington.

In Irish border communities and U.K. ports, no-deal anxiety was mounting.

"Potentially it is going to be a nightmare," said Michael Eddy, a district councilor who lives in the aptly named town of Deal, a few miles from the major Channel port of Dover on England's south coast.

He says local authorities have modeled potential disruptions and believe that even "a two-minute delay for every truck going through the port of Dover" would lead to a 50-mile (80-kilometer) traffic jam.

"What then happens with local people wanting to go about their business, wanting to get to hospitals, wanting to get their kids to school, all of that kind of stuff?" he said.

The European Parliament approved measures Wednesday to ameliorate the immediate hardships of a no-deal Brexit. It backed emergency plans to provide continuity for everything from air, port and road traffic to foreign students to the fishing industry.

The U.K. Parliament has twice rejected the withdrawal agreement that May spent two years negotiating with the EU, and the bloc insists there will be no more talks.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned British lawmakers that "whoever rejects the (Brexit) agreement plays with the welfare of their citizens and the economy in a reckless way."

Yet May has not given up on a third attempt to get her deal through Parliament again.

U.K. Treasury chief Philip Hammond said he was "confident that we will do a deal" in the next few weeks.

Many Britons wish they could share his optimism.

"I think that a bit of unity would be helpful now," said Katharine Beaugie, an artist in Dover. "It would be much better if we could have found some sort of decision."

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Casert reported from Strasbourg, France. Renee Graham in Deal, England, Gregory Katz and Danica Kirka in London, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

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Follow AP's full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions inside the House of Commons in London, Wednesday March 13, 2019. Britain and the European Union seem braced Wednesday for a chaotic, cliff-edge Brexit, as Britain’s Parliament is set to hold further votes over the split with European Union.  (House of Commons/PA via AP)
Former U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader and member of the European Parliament Nigel Farage attends a session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias)
An anti-Brexit remain in the European Union supporter, takes part in a protest outside the House of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
European Union's Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the Commission, left, and European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier attend a session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias)
European Union's Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the Commission, center left, and European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, attend a session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias)
Pro-Brexit leave the European Union supporters take part in a protest outside the House of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
An anti-Brexit, left, and pro-Brexit supporter debate outside the House of Parliament in London, Tuesday, March 12, 2019. Prime Minister Theresa May's mission to secure Britain's orderly exit from the European Union appeared headed for defeat Tuesday, as lawmakers ignored her entreaties to support her divorce deal and end the political chaos and economic uncertainty that Brexit has unleashed.(AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier delivers his speech during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias)
Geoffrey Cox, Britain's Attorney General looks down as he leaves 10 Downing Street following a cabinet meeting in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. In the background is Stephen Barclay, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May sits on front bench right, orange jacket, facing a packed parliament Tuesday March 12, 2019. May keeps going, declining to resign, despite two successive parliamentary defeats of historic proportion and she is still pushing for her Brexit agreement, despite ample evidence that Parliament won’t support it. (Mark Duffy/UK Parliament via AP)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves from Downing Street in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. European Union officials on Wednesday criticized the U.K. Parliament for rejecting a Brexit deal for a second time as the bloc prepared for a chaotic, cliff-edge departure. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A pro-Brexit leave the European Union supporter takes part in a protest outside the House of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. The European Parliament's chief Brexit official says he wants to limit any Brexit deadline extension to a few months at best, fearing it will take over the whole European election campaign. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
FILE - In this Tuesday March 12, 2019 file photo, lorries queue at the entrance to the Port of Dover ferry terminal during delays to the cross Channel ferry, in Dover, England. Britain unveiled a temporary tariff regime on Wednesday, March 13 that could boost the price of imports ranging from cars to butter if the U.K. leaves the European Union without an agreement on future trade, triggering fury among business leaders who weren't consulted on the proposals. The tariffs, which would last for up to 12 months, were published hours before lawmakers are scheduled to vote on whether to prevent the country from leaving the EU without a deal. (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP, file)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May sits on front bench right, orange jacket, facing a packed parliament Tuesday March 12, 2019. May keeps going, declining to resign, despite two successive parliamentary defeats of historic proportion and she is still pushing for her Brexit agreement, despite ample evidence that Parliament won’t support it. (Mark Duffy/UK Parliament via AP)
General view of the European Parliament during a plenary session in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias)
A dog owner holds her dog in parliament square where pro and anti Brexit protesters hold a rally in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
MP Jeremy Wright leaves the Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. Britain's Parliament has voted to reject having the country leave the European Union without a divorce agreement, a decision that lessens but does not remove the chance of a chaotic
Britain's opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks to lawmakers in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday March 13, 2019. Political crisis in Britain is sparking anxiety across the European Union, as fears rise that Britain will crash out of the bloc on March 29 without a withdrawal agreement to smooth the way. (Mark Duffy/UK Parliament via AP)
Pro-Brexit leave the European Union supporters take part in a protest outside the House of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
Pro-Brexit leave the European Union supporters take part in a protest outside the House of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
European Union's Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the Commission, left, and European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier attend a session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias)
European Union's Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the Commission, left, and European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier attend a session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias)
European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier delivers his speech during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias)
European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier delivers his speech during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions inside the House of Commons in London, Wednesday March 13, 2019. Britain and the European Union seem braced Wednesday for a chaotic, cliff-edge Brexit, as Britain’s Parliament is set to hold further votes over the split with European Union.  (House of Commons/PA via AP)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions inside the House of Commons in London, Wednesday March 13, 2019. Britain and the European Union seem braced Wednesday for a chaotic, cliff-edge Brexit, as Britain’s Parliament is set to hold further votes over the split with European Union. (House of Commons/PA via AP)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May sits on front bench right, orange jacket, facing a packed parliament Tuesday March 12, 2019. May keeps going, declining to resign, despite two successive parliamentary defeats of historic proportion and she is still pushing for her Brexit agreement, despite ample evidence that Parliament won’t support it. (Mark Duffy/UK Parliament via AP)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May sits on front bench right, orange jacket, facing a packed parliament Tuesday March 12, 2019. May keeps going, declining to resign, despite two successive parliamentary defeats of historic proportion and she is still pushing for her Brexit agreement, despite ample evidence that Parliament won’t support it. (Mark Duffy/UK Parliament via AP)
Former U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader and member of the European Parliament Nigel Farage attends a session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias)
Former U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader and member of the European Parliament Nigel Farage attends a session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to lawmakers in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday March 13, 2019. In a tentative first step toward ending months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted Wednesday to block the country from leaving the European Union without a divorce agreement, triggering an attempt to delay that departure, currently due to take place on March 29. (Mark Duffy/UK Parliament via AP)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to lawmakers in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday March 13, 2019. In a tentative first step toward ending months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted Wednesday to block the country from leaving the European Union without a divorce agreement, triggering an attempt to delay that departure, currently due to take place on March 29. (Mark Duffy/UK Parliament via AP)
MP Jeremy Wright leaves the Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. Britain's Parliament has voted to reject having the country leave the European Union without a divorce agreement, a decision that lessens but does not remove the chance of a chaotic
MP Jeremy Wright leaves the Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. Britain's Parliament has voted to reject having the country leave the European Union without a divorce agreement, a decision that lessens but does not remove the chance of a chaotic "no-deal" Brexit. The vote Wednesday night also increases the chances that Britain's exit from the bloc will be delayed. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
A pro-Brexit leave the European Union supporter takes part in a protest outside the House of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. The European Parliament's chief Brexit official says he wants to limit any Brexit deadline extension to a few months at best, fearing it will take over the whole European election campaign. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
A pro-Brexit leave the European Union supporter takes part in a protest outside the House of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. The European Parliament's chief Brexit official says he wants to limit any Brexit deadline extension to a few months at best, fearing it will take over the whole European election campaign. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
General view of the European Parliament during a plenary session in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias)
General view of the European Parliament during a plenary session in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias)
FILE - In this Tuesday March 12, 2019 file photo, lorries queue at the entrance to the Port of Dover ferry terminal during delays to the cross Channel ferry, in Dover, England. Britain unveiled a temporary tariff regime on Wednesday, March 13 that could boost the price of imports ranging from cars to butter if the U.K. leaves the European Union without an agreement on future trade, triggering fury among business leaders who weren't consulted on the proposals. The tariffs, which would last for up to 12 months, were published hours before lawmakers are scheduled to vote on whether to prevent the country from leaving the EU without a deal. (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP, file)
FILE - In this Tuesday March 12, 2019 file photo, lorries queue at the entrance to the Port of Dover ferry terminal during delays to the cross Channel ferry, in Dover, England. Britain unveiled a temporary tariff regime on Wednesday, March 13 that could boost the price of imports ranging from cars to butter if the U.K. leaves the European Union without an agreement on future trade, triggering fury among business leaders who weren't consulted on the proposals. The tariffs, which would last for up to 12 months, were published hours before lawmakers are scheduled to vote on whether to prevent the country from leaving the EU without a deal. (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP, file)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May sits on front bench right, orange jacket, facing a packed parliament Tuesday March 12, 2019. May keeps going, declining to resign, despite two successive parliamentary defeats of historic proportion and she is still pushing for her Brexit agreement, despite ample evidence that Parliament won’t support it. (Mark Duffy/UK Parliament via AP)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May sits on front bench right, orange jacket, facing a packed parliament Tuesday March 12, 2019. May keeps going, declining to resign, despite two successive parliamentary defeats of historic proportion and she is still pushing for her Brexit agreement, despite ample evidence that Parliament won’t support it. (Mark Duffy/UK Parliament via AP)
An anti-Brexit, left, and pro-Brexit supporter debate outside the House of Parliament in London, Tuesday, March 12, 2019. Prime Minister Theresa May's mission to secure Britain's orderly exit from the European Union appeared headed for defeat Tuesday, as lawmakers ignored her entreaties to support her divorce deal and end the political chaos and economic uncertainty that Brexit has unleashed.(AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
An anti-Brexit, left, and pro-Brexit supporter debate outside the House of Parliament in London, Tuesday, March 12, 2019. Prime Minister Theresa May's mission to secure Britain's orderly exit from the European Union appeared headed for defeat Tuesday, as lawmakers ignored her entreaties to support her divorce deal and end the political chaos and economic uncertainty that Brexit has unleashed.(AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
Geoffrey Cox, Britain's Attorney General looks down as he leaves 10 Downing Street following a cabinet meeting in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. In the background is Stephen Barclay, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Geoffrey Cox, Britain's Attorney General looks down as he leaves 10 Downing Street following a cabinet meeting in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. In the background is Stephen Barclay, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
An anti-Brexit remain in the European Union supporter, takes part in a protest outside the House of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
An anti-Brexit remain in the European Union supporter, takes part in a protest outside the House of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Britain's opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks to lawmakers in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday March 13, 2019. Political crisis in Britain is sparking anxiety across the European Union, as fears rise that Britain will crash out of the bloc on March 29 without a withdrawal agreement to smooth the way. (Mark Duffy/UK Parliament via AP)
Britain's opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks to lawmakers in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday March 13, 2019. Political crisis in Britain is sparking anxiety across the European Union, as fears rise that Britain will crash out of the bloc on March 29 without a withdrawal agreement to smooth the way. (Mark Duffy/UK Parliament via AP)
European Union's Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the Commission, center left, and European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, attend a session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias)
European Union's Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the Commission, center left, and European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, attend a session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves from Downing Street in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. European Union officials on Wednesday criticized the U.K. Parliament for rejecting a Brexit deal for a second time as the bloc prepared for a chaotic, cliff-edge departure. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves from Downing Street in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. European Union officials on Wednesday criticized the U.K. Parliament for rejecting a Brexit deal for a second time as the bloc prepared for a chaotic, cliff-edge departure. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A dog owner holds her dog in parliament square where pro and anti Brexit protesters hold a rally in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
A dog owner holds her dog in parliament square where pro and anti Brexit protesters hold a rally in London, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)