By William James, Kylie MacLellan and Elizabeth Piper
LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May puts a stripped-down version of her twice-defeated Brexit divorce deal to a vote in parliament on Friday, in an attempt to break the impasse over the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.
The vote, on the day the country was originally due to exit the European Union, illustrates the depth of the three-year Brexit crisis that has left it uncertain how, when or even if the United Kingdom will ever leave.
Lawmakers vote at 1430 GMT on May’s 585-page Withdrawal Agreement at a special sitting, but not on the 26-page Political Declaration on future relations, a maneuver to get around a ban on repeatedly putting the same submission to a vote.
May’s Brexit-supporting trade minister, Liam Fox, cast the vote as a last chance to secure Brexit while Attorney General Geoffrey Cox told the House of Commons that it held the fate of the country in its hands.
“We are at an important crossroads for the purposes of this nation’s future and its history,” Cox, a 58-year-old Brexit supporter whose stentorian oratory has won him admirers, told the House of Commons.
Cox cautioned that unless the deal was approved then the automatic right to delay Brexit until May 22 would be lost.
“The House can take a single decisive step to afford certainty to the millions of people throughout this country who are waiting for it, to have a short extension,” Cox said.
May on Wednesday pledged to quit if her deal was passed and while the sacrifice of her own premiership failed to immediately give her the numbers, there was speculation on Friday that she may have won over greater numbers of detractors.
The uncertainty around Brexit, the United Kingdom’s most significant political and economic move since World War Two, has left allies and investors aghast.
The volatility of the crisis is such that some major investors have stepped away from sterling markets, fatigued by the daily whiplash. The pound fell on Friday before rallying on a Sun newspaper report of growing support of May’s deal.
As May tries to salvage her deal and some lawmakers try to grab control of the process, thousands of Brexit supporters were due to protest in central London with a “Brexit Betrayal” march led by campaigner Nigel Farage which ends outside parliament.
May’s deal, agreed with the EU in November, was rejected by 230 votes on Jan. 15 and by 149 votes on March 12 so she needs to bring at least 75 lawmakers over, while losing none, to get it over the line.
To win the vote, May must bring on side dozens of Brexit-supporting lawmakers in her own party and more than 20 Labour Party lawmakers.
If May wins the vote, it would mark a remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of a premiership that has been riven by one of the deepest political crises in modern British history. If the deal is rejected again, her entire Brexit strategy would have failed.
Britain would then have to either leave the EU on April 12 without a deal or come up with some interim plan, possibly a longer delay, by that date and then ask the EU to agree to it. Lawmakers will try to forge a consensus themselves for some other Brexit strategy on Monday.
A close loss would underscore the deadlock that has paralyzed British politics since the 2016 Brexit vote. It is unclear if May has the political capital left to try her deal a fourth time.
If the government wins the vote, it believes it will have satisfied the conditions set by the EU in order to delay Britain’s exit from the bloc until May 22. However, the result will not meet the criteria in British law for the exit package to be formally ratified.
The 2016 referendum revealed a United Kingdom divided over much more than EU membership, and has provoked impassioned debate about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism, empire and what it means to be British.
Opponents fear Brexit will make Britain poorer and divide the West as it grapples with both the unconventional U.S. presidency of Donald Trump and growing assertiveness from Russia and China.
Supporters of Brexit say while the divorce might bring some short-term instability, in the longer term it will allow the United Kingdom to thrive if cut free from what they cast as a doomed attempt in European unity.
Far-right activists such as Tommy Robinson are due to speak at a separate meeting being cast as “a make Brexit happen” rally. Hundreds of thousands of people opposed to Brexit marched through London on Saturday.
(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alistair Smout; Additional reporting by Costas Pitas, Kate Holton, Tom Finn and Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Jon Boyle)