This evening, MPs voted on whether or not the UK should seek permission from the EU to delay Brexit beyond 29 March 2019.
The Government motion for debate was:
“That this house:
(1) notes the resolutions of the House of 12 and 13 March, and accordingly agrees that the Government will seek to agree with the European Union an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3);
(2) agrees that, if the House has passed a resolution approving the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 by 20 March 2019, then the Government will seek to agree with the European Union a one-off extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) for a period ending on 30 June 2019 for the purpose of passing the necessary EU exit legislation; and
(3) notes that, if the House has not passed a resolution approving the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 by 20 March 2019, 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.”
The amendments to the Government motion that were voted on were:
- an amendment changing the wording of the Government motion to instruct the Prime Minister to request an extension to the Article 50 process “sufficient for the purposes of legislating for and conducting a public vote in which the people of the United Kingdom may give their consent for either leaving the European Union on terms to be determined by Parliament or retaining the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.” This amendment was defeated 334 votes to 85;
- an amendment calling for an extension to the Article 50 process – delaying Brexit beyond 29 March – in order to “enable the House of Commons to find a way forward that can command majority support”. This amendment was defeated 314 votes to 311;
- an amendment rejecting the draft Withdrawal Agreement, no deal and seeking an extension of the Article 50 process to avoid a no-deal Brexit on 29 March and to allow the Commons to “provide parliamentary time” for the Commons to “find a majority for a different approach”. This amendment was defeated 314 votes to 312; and
- an amendment ordering the Government not to put the draft Withdrawal Agreement to MPs again for a third time. It noted that the parliamentary rulebook, Erskine May, states “that a motion or an amendment which is the same, in substance, as a question which has been decided in the affirmative or negative during the current session may not be brought forward again during that session”. This amendment was defeated 318 votes to 302.
The Commons then voted on the un-amended Government motion to delay Brexit – this motion was passed 412 votes to 202. Theresa May did not issue an immediate statement following the vote, however the likely impact of this vote is that the UK will now not leave the EU on 29 March 2019.
As Article 50 cannot be unilaterally extended, the Prime Minister must now successfully gain the consent of the EU before any extension can be enacted into UK law. At this stage, it is difficult to predict if, and for how long, the EU will agree to an extension. Posting on Twitter earlier today, EU Brexit Co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, commented that under no-circumstances could there be an extension ‘in the dark’; there would be no reason for the European Council to agree to an extension unless a House of Commons majority for precise steps forward is found. President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, posted a more supportive tweet, stating that ahead of the EU Council meetings next week, he will appeal to EU27 members to be open to a long Article 50 extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy.
Echoing the comments of her European counterparts, the Prime Minister is expected to bring back her draft Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration in the next two weeks for a third ‘meaningful vote’, which if passed, should provide the majority agreement within Parliament on a Brexit strategy – which the EU indicates would be required for an extension of Article 50. If the Withdrawal Agreement is passed, the Prime Minister has indicated she will seek a Brexit extension until the end of June; a longer extension would be required if the Withdrawal Agreement is again rejected, subject to the unanimous agreement of EU Member States.