LONDON — British lawmakers face another tumultuous day Thursday, as Parliament prepared to vote on whether to request to delay Brexit — the country’s scheduled departure from the European Union — as Prime Minister Theresa May struggled to shore up her shattered authority.
The vote comes a day after chaotic scenes in the House of Commons, when lawmakers voted to rule out leaving the EU without an agreement on divorce terms. A dozen government ministers abstained rather than support May’s bid to preserve the no-deal option, while another voted against, and resigned.
After Wednesday night’s vote May 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 if they don’t.
Britain is currently scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, when a two-year countdown to departure runs out. Exiting the EU without a deal could mean major disruptions for businesses and people in the U.K. and the 27 remaining countries.
The only deal currently available is the one May negotiated over the past two years but Parliament has twice overwhelmingly rejected it.
With Brexit now just 15 days away, 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. Some are trying to build support for a series of votes in Parliament on different options, to see if any can command a majority.
But May refuses to abandon her plan, and is seeking to win over opponents in her own party and its Northern Irish political ally, the Democratic Unionist Party.
May is proposing Brexit be delayed until June 30 — but only if she can get Parliament to back her Brexit deal at a third attempt by Wednesday.
She has warned Brexit supporters who oppose her deal that if no withdrawal agreement is passed in the coming days, the only option will be to seek a long extension that could mean Brexit never happens.
Any delay in the Brexit process would require the unanimous approval of all 27 remaining EU member states, which in effects gives the bloc the power to dictate the terms of an extension.
EU officials have indicated they would approve an extension if there were a specific reason for one, but that they don’t want to provide more time for political bickering in Britain.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said in Brussels said he wasn’t sure more time was the answer. The EU, he added, needs “more decisions” from London.
“We have to know, what is the intention of the British parliament? What are the choices of the British authorities?” he said in Brussels.
The EU is also reluctant to postpone Brexit beyond the late May elections for the European Parliament, because that would mean Britain taking part even as it prepares to leave.
The bloc is more open to a long delay to allow Britain to radically change course — an idea favored by pro-EU British lawmakers who want to maintain close ties with the EU.
“I think we should suggest to the Europeans a good, long delay,” said Conservative lawmaker Ken Clarke. “Go back to square one and work out … over a proper time, the final relationship.”
European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted Thursday he will appeal to the leaders of the other 27 EU nations “to be open to a long extension if the U.K. finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus about it.”
The EU has also warned that Parliament voting against no-deal Brexit isn’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.
Conservative lawmaker George Freeman suggested that May should promise to quit to get her deal through.
“This chaos can’t continue,” Freeman said in a tweet. “Something has to give.”
— Jill Lawless in London contributed to this story.
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