Laughter erupts at leader’s humiliation
British Prime Minister Theresa May will fly around Europe to meet with leaders in a desperate attempt to secure a deal on Brexit and save her career.
MPs laughed as Mrs May was forced to postpone a vote in parliament on her Brexit deal after it become clear it would be defeated.
She now plans to meet with European Union leaders to seek changes to the agreement even though EU officials are adamant the deal is not up for renegotiation.
The move has thrown Britain into disarray, causing the pound to plunge and throwing her plans for a smooth exit from the European Union on March 29 in doubt.
Her own position is also at risk with Labour MPs calling for her resignation after she announced the delay.
The key sticking point is the so-called Irish backstop, aimed at ensuring there will be no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland as a result of Brexit.
Mrs May said she would hold talks with EU leaders ahead of a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, seeking "further reassurances" over the backstop. "Nothing should be off the table," she said.
EU leaders signalled they are prepared to help Britain, up to a point, but insisted the Brexit agreement could not be changed.
"The deal is the deal," Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said. "It's taken two years to put together. It's a fair deal for both sides."
European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: "We will not renegotiate the deal, including the backstop, but we are ready to discuss how to facilitate UK ratification."
A key member of the European parliament's Brexit team, Green politician Philippe Lamberts, predicted May's shuttle diplomacy would fail to secure changes.
"The only net result of this round of capitals will be an additional amount of CO2 in the atmosphere," he said.
CALLS FOR MAY TO RESIGN
Mrs May revealed the vote would be postponed in a stinging statement to parliament at 3.30pm Monday local time (2.30am Tuesday AEDT), after a group of Conservative ministers last week reportedly warned her to postpone, or risk a humiliating defeat.
"If we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow, the deal would be rejected by a significant margin," she said. "For as long as we fail to agree a deal, the risk of an accidental 'no deal' increases."
She said her divorce deal with the EU was still "the best deal that is negotiable", telling MPs any agreement would require compromise.
Mrs May asked whether or not the House of Commons really wanted to deliver Brexit, and whether it was willing to reignite political division by challenging the 2016 vote to leave.
Labour MPs shouted "Resign! Resign!" as she wrapped up her remarks.
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said her government was in "complete disarray".
The pound plunged in the chaos, hitting a 20-month low of $1.2515 against the US dollar.
A defeat in the vote on her bill would put Mrs May's position in even more jeopardy. She has been facing calls to quit for weeks and is said to be close to reaching the number of no-confidence letters required to trigger a leadership spill.
Exactly what will happen to her if the deal is voted down is not certain. Aside from taking responsibility for the failure to get the deal through parliament and quitting, what happens to her will be decided by others.
That is due to the fact MPs won the right to determine what happens if the vote is lost - a massive blow to her authority and putting her in the hands of a bitter House of Commons where no party has a majority.
She could go back to the EU and ask for an improved deal, although they have already warned there would be no more concessions. Several countries, including France, believe the UK got too easy a deal in the first place, so it seems unlikely they will agree to another deal.
But a no deal would be a disaster for both parties, so it is possible she could return to Brussels and test their resolve not to renegotiate.
A group of senior and loyal ministers met with Mrs May last Thursday where they reportedly gave her the message to cancel or delay - or risk a humiliating and destabilising defeat.
"A number of cabinet ministers made it clear if this looked like happening, she needed to pull or delay the vote. But when people around the table pushed her on what she was going to do, she did not answer," a source told The Times.
THE IRISH BACKSTOP
MPs hate the deal largely because of the so-called Irish backstop. That is the legal guarantee the UK has with the EU there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland. But in doing so - and achieving frictionless trade, which is a bonus - it keeps the country locked in a customs union they can't quit whenever they want to.
It also sees Northern Ireland subject to some single market rules that the rest of the UK aren't - alarming many who fear the Union would be threatened.
Suspicious MPs believe the EU will drag the chain on striking a free trade deal with the UK during the transition period that begins on March 29 next year. If no deal is reached then the backstop comes into play.
Commentators believe Mrs May will table an amendment aimed at getting rebels MPs on side that would at least allow them a regular review of whether the EU was doing the best it could in getting a permanent deal to replace the backstop.
"People are concerned about the role of the UK in making these decisions. And the obvious, in terms of the UK, is for it to be parliament that makes these decisions," May told BBC radio.
Ministers admit the deal struck with Brussels last month is not perfect but say it is the only option for an orderly Brexit exit after decades of membership.
Senior MPs and ministers have been briefed on plans for a "no deal scenario", which some commentators suggested would focus minds on the implications of rejecting the agreement.
A no deal would be catastrophic for the UK and the EU.
A revised warning has disruption at UK ports lasting up to six months, which aside from affecting trade, would impact heavily on importing medicine.
The government advises stockpiling of medicines for six weeks in the UK to cover the possibility of disruption after a no deal Brexit.
About 90 per cent of medicines imported by the UK and the Republic of Ireland come in through Dover.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the National Health Service should prepare to use alternative routes in the event of disruption on cross-channel routes - including the use of chartered planes to fly in supplies.