For the people apparently tasked with running their country, British parliamentarians keep discovering pesky limits on what they can and can’t do with Brexit.
Despite voting to leave the EU, they can’t prevent a “no deal” Brexit. They also can’t reopen negotiations with the EU over the terms of the deal that they’ve already rejected or take out the Northern Ireland backstop agreement, which would keep the UK in the EU customs union and shackle Northern Ireland to single-market rules.
Just because they can’t, doesn’t mean they won’t try: This evening (Jan. 29), in a series of votes, members made their views known on a variety of these issues—though the outcomes are almost entirely symbolic.
Politicians voted against leaving the EU “without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for the future relationship.” But though this may look like a statement of intent, “simply opposing ‘no deal’ is not enough to stop it,” British prime minister Theresa May said afterward.
A similar vote called on May to return to the EU and renegotiate the deal while leaving the Northern Ireland border open. It was championed as a sign of cross-party cooperation—but rejected by the EU in a matter of minutes. Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, said the deal was “not open for re-negotiation” and “remains the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”
An amendment proposed by Labour MP Yvette Cooper, which would have postponed Britain’s exit date, narrowly failed, sending the pound plunging to a trading-session low as investors brace for a chaotic exit.
Now, with two months to the day before the proposed leaving date, and re-negotiation emphatically off the table, a no-deal Brexit looks more likely than ever—whatever MPs may have voted on today.
Sign up for the Quartz Daily Brief, our free daily newsletter with the world’s most important and interesting news.
More stories from Quartz: