UK lawmakers head off on break with Brexit decision looming

British lawmakers headed off for a holiday break Thursday with visions of Brexit dancing in their heads — and a big decision to make.

Parliament broke up for a 17-day Christmas recess, without deciding whether to approve the government's divorce deal with the European Union.

Prime Minister Theresa May postponed a vote on the deal last week to avert heavy defeat. It has been rescheduled for the week of Jan. 14, but opposition remains strong across the political spectrum.

Amid the impasse, Britain and the EU have triggered plans to try to limit the economic chaos if Britain leaves the bloc on March 29 with no deal in place on withdrawal terms and future relations. The EU says it will take emergency measures to ensure planes can still fly and some financial services can still operate after a "no-deal" Brexit, while Britain has stockpiled medicines and put 3,500 troops on standby.

The government hopes the grim prospect of a disruptive Brexit will persuade lawmakers to vote for May's deal when they come back.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, May said the government's focus was ensuring "that deal is able to be agreed by and go through a meaningful vote in the House of Commons."

Morawiecki urged British legislators to approve the deal, calling it "the best that could have been obtained."

The Bank of England said Thursday that uncertainties around Brexit have "intensified" over the past few weeks and are weighing on U.K. economic growth.

The central bank said that "business investment has fallen for each of the past three quarters and is likely to remain weak in the near term." Last month, the bank warned that a worst-case no-deal Brexit could see the British economy shrink by 8 percent within a few months.

Auto-industry lobby group the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said a no-deal Brexit risked "destroying the automotive industry and the hundreds of thousands of jobs it supports" and must be avoided.

Most members of Parliament dislike both May's Brexit deal and the prospect of leaving the EU without an agreement, but they are deeply divided about what to do instead. Many in the opposition want a new election, while others argue for a second referendum on Britain's EU membership.

There are also divisions within the Conservative government. Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said Wednesday that "there would be a plausible argument" for a new referendum if Parliament remained deadlocked.

"Parliament has to reach a majority on how it's going to leave the European Union," Rudd told broadcaster ITV. "If it fails to do so, then I can see the argument for taking it back to the people again, much as it would distress many of my colleagues."

But Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom said the government was dead-set against a second referendum, and insisted "no deal" need not be a disaster.

"'No deal' implies that we leave in March and there are absolutely no agreements whatsoever," Leadsom told the BBC.

"But what we already saw yesterday, in the EU's preparations which they have very belatedly started to make for no deal, is that there are going to be agreements on things like aviation, on things like haulage, on things like tourist travelers and so on."


Pan Pylas contributed to this story.