MPs voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to seek a delay in Britain’s exit from the European Union, setting the stage for Prime Minister Theresa May to renew efforts to get her divorce deal approved by parliament next week. MPs approved by 412 votes to 202 a statement setting out the option to request a short delay if a Brexit deal can be agreed by March 20 — or a longer delay if no deal can be agreed in time.
Just 15 days before Britain is due to leave the European Union, May is using the threat of a long delay to push Brexit supporters in her Conservative Party finally to back her deal.
A new vote on her deal is likely next week, when those MPs will have to decide whether to back a deal they feel does not offer a clean break from the EU, or accept that Brexit could be watered down or even thwarted by a lengthy delay.
Earlier, MPs voted by 334 to 85 against a second referendum on EU membership. Most Labour MPs did not back the measure and even campaigners for a so-called People’s Vote said the time was not yet right for parliament to vote on the matter.
The government narrowly survived an attempt to give MPs control of the parliamentary agenda on March 20 with the aim of forcing a discussion of alternative Brexit options at a later date.
May’s authority hit an all-time low this week after a series of humiliating parliamentary defeats and rebellions. But she has made clear her plan is still on the agenda, despite twice being rejected by an overwhelming majority in parliament, in January and again on Tuesday.
May’s spokesman said earlier on Thursday that she would put her Brexit deal, struck after two-and-a-half years of negotiations with the EU, to another vote “if it was felt that it were worthwhile”.
Seeking to win over dissenters, she has given rebellious Conservative MPs a thinly-veiled warning that a failure to back her plan could mean no Brexit at all.
Britons voted by 52-48 percent in a 2016 referendum to leave the EU, a decision that has not only divided the main political parties but also exposed deep rifts in British society.
Sterling has swung more wildly this week than at any point since 2017, rising from below $1.30 to a nine-month high of almost $1.34 as investors bet Britain would avoid a no-deal Brexit.
Factbox – Brexit in numbers: How did parliament vote on Thursday?
MPs are voting on Thursday on a government proposal setting out what Prime Minister Theresa May says are the options on how long to delay Brexit. Below are the results:
GOVERNMENT MOTION – PASSED 412 to 202
1) Notes parliament has rejected May’s deal and a no-deal scenario, and agrees the government will seek an extension to the Brexit negotiating period, which currently ends on March 29.
2) Parliament agrees that if MPs approve a divorce deal by March 20, the government will seek to agree “a one-off extension” until June 30 to pass legislation needed to smooth Britain’s departure from the EU.
3) Parliament notes if it has not approved a divorce deal by March 20, then it is “highly likely that the European Council at its meeting the following day would require a clear purpose for any extension, not least to determine its length, and that any extension beyond 30 June 2019 would require the United Kingdom to hold European Parliament elections in May 2019”.
AMENDMENT H: SECOND REFERENDUM – REJECTED 334 to 85
Led by Independent Group MP Sarah Wollaston, this amendment would have instructed the government to request a delay to Brexit to allow time to hold a second referendum.
AMENDMENT TO AMENDMENT I – REJECTED 314 to 311
A technical change to add a time limit to Amendment I which seeks to pave the way for indicative votes in parliament on Brexit options.
AMENDMENT I: FIND ANOTHER WAY – REJECTED 314 to 312
Led by MP Hilary Benn, a cross-party group put forward a proposal which would have taken control of the parliamentary agenda on March 20 with the aim of forcing a discussion of Brexit options at a later date.
This would have aimed at trying to find a majority for an alternative Brexit path that would break the parliamentary deadlock.
AMENDMENT E: DIFFERENT APPROACH – REJECTED 318 to 302
Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party submitted an amendment calling for May to use a Brexit delay to give parliament time “to find a majority for a different approach”.
AMENDMENT J: NO MORE BREXIT VOTES – WITHDRAWN
This amendment, submitted by Labour lawmaker Chris Bryant, sought to prohibit the government from asking parliament to vote on May’s exit deal for a third time, citing parliamentary convention that the same question should not be asked of MPs more than once.