UK's May pulls vote on her divorce deal, thrusting Brexit into the unknown

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday abruptly pulled a parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal, throwing Britain’s plan to leave the European Union into chaos after admitting that she faced a rout.

May’s move on the eve of a crucial parliamentary vote opens up an array of options for the United Kingdom, including a disorderly Brexit with no deal, another referendum on EU membership, or a last minute renegotiation of May’s deal.

Announcing the delay, May was laughed at by some lawmakers when she said there was broad support for the deal and that she had listened carefully to different views it - the result of 18 months of tortuous negotiations.

“If we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow the deal would be rejected by a significant margin,” May told parliament, adding that she was confident it was the right deal.

“We will therefore defer the vote scheduled for tomorrow and not proceed to divide the House at this time,” May said, adding that the United Kingdom would step up planning for a no-deal Brexit.

May accepted there was concern among lawmakers about the Northern Irish ‘backstop’, an insurance policy aimed at avoiding a return to border checks between the British province and Ireland that could threaten a 1998 peace accord.

Her critics, both supporters of Brexit and its opponents, have rejected the open-ended backstop, which could require Britain to accept European Union rules indefinitely, long after it gives up any say in drafting them.

She said the broader question was whether parliament wanted to deliver on the will of the people for Brexit, or open up the divisions in the world’s fifth largest economy with another referendum.

Sterling skidded to its weakest level since June, 2017, falling to $1.2622.

Related: President Trump and Theresa May:

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President Trump and Theresa May in joint Chequers press conference
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President Trump and Theresa May in joint Chequers press conference
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May poses for photographs with U.S. President Donald Trump at Chequers near Aylesbury, Britain July 13, 2018. Jack Taylor/Pool via REUTERS
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May greets U.S. President Donald Trump at Chequers near Aylesbury, Britain July 13, 2018. Jack Taylor/Pool via REUTERS
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump arrive for a joint news conference in the grounds of Chequers near Aylesbury, Britain July 13, 2018. Jack Taylor/Pool via REUTERS
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump walk in the grounds of Chequers near Aylesbury, Britain July 13, 2018. Jack Taylor/Pool via REUTERS
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump hold a joint news conference at Chequers, the official country residence of the Prime Minister, near Aylesbury, Britain, July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump walk to a joint news conference at Chequers, the official country residence of the Prime Minister, near Aylesbury, Britain, July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump hold a joint news conference at Chequers, the official country residence of the Prime Minister, near Aylesbury, Britain, July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump hold a joint news conference at Chequers, the official country residence of the Prime Minister, near Aylesbury, Britain, July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump walk away after holding a joint news conference at Chequers, the official country residence of the Prime Minister, near Aylesbury, Britain, July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
U.S. President Donald Trump walks with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May prior to a joint press conference at Chequers, near Aylesbury, Britain July 13, 2018. Stefan Rousseau/Pool via REUTERS
U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May hold a press conference after their meeting at Chequers in Buckinghamshire, Britain July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
British Prime Minister Theresa May listens as she and U.S. President Donald Trump hold a press conference after their meeting at Chequers in Buckinghamshire, Britain July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
US President Donald Trump (L) gestures as he speaks next to Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (R) during a press conference following their meeting at Chequers, the prime minister's country residence, near Ellesborough, northwest of London on July 13, 2018 on the second day of Trump's UK visit. - US President Donald Trump launched an extraordinary attack on Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit strategy, plunging the transatlantic 'special relationship' to a new low as they prepared to meet Friday on the second day of his tumultuous trip to Britain. (Photo by Jack Taylor / POOL / Getty Images) (Photo credit should read JACK TAYLOR/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) speaks during a press conference with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (R) following their meeting at Chequers, the prime minister's country residence, near Ellesborough, northwest of London on July 13, 2018 on the second day of Trump's UK visit. - US President Donald Trump launched an extraordinary attack on Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit strategy, plunging the transatlantic 'special relationship' to a new low as they prepared to meet Friday on the second day of his tumultuous trip to Britain. (Photo by Jack Taylor / POOL / Getty Images) (Photo credit should read JACK TAYLOR/AFP/Getty Images)
AYLESBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 13: Prime Minister Theresa May holds bi-lateral talks with U.S. President Donald Trump at Chequers on July 13, 2018 in Aylesbury, England. US President, Donald Trump, held bi-lateral talks with British Prime Minister, Theresa May at her grace-and-favour country residence, Chequers. Earlier British newspaper, The Sun, revealed criticisms of Theresa May and her Brexit policy made by President Trump in an exclusive interview. Later today The President and First Lady will join Her Majesty for tea at Windsor Castle. (Photo by Jack Taylor-WPA Pool/Getty Images)
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May’s own position is uncertain and she could face a swift challenge. Main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the United Kingdom no longer had “a functioning government”.

A small Northern Irish party which props up May’s Conservative minority government called the situation a shambles. Scottish nationalists pledged to support a vote to bring the government down.

The decision to halt the vote came just hours after the EU’s top court ruled that Britain could unilaterally withdraw its decision to leave the bloc on March, 29.

Additional reporting by Costas Pitas, William James, Ben Martin, Andy MacAskill, Alastair MacDonald and Gabriela Baczynska; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Peter Graff

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