Prime minister’s latest move effectively creates a seven-day deadline for MPs to sign off on her Brexit deal.
Theresa May has a week to save her deal — and possibly Brexit.
After another stinging defeat in the House of Commons Wednesday night, the U.K. prime minister confirmed MPs would get a vote to delay Brexit on Thursday.
This would take the form of either a short technical extension of Article 50 in order to agree a Brexit deal with the EU — or a much longer delay to radically change course.
The prime minister’s latest move effectively creates a seven-day deadline for MPs to sign off on the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated over the last two years or hand EU leaders the power to decide what happens next.
It came after another dramatic day in parliament in which MPs twice defeated the government to insist on the hardest of motions ruling out a no-deal Brexit in all scenarios. The double defeat — which saw ministers refusing to vote with the government — prompted calls for the prime minister to resign.
The government motion laid late Wednesday night sets out the next acts in the Brexit drama. First, if MPs ratify a withdrawal deal with the European Union before March 20 — and there remains only one deal on the table — the government will seek a “one-off extension” of Article 50 until June 30. That is required to ensure the U.K. can pass all the legislation needed to leave in an orderly fashion.
The clause suggests the prime minister will return to the House of Commons for a third meaningful vote on the Brexit deal on Wednesday next week, in an attempt to overturn two thumping defeats the deal has already received in January and on Tuesday.
If MPs have not ratified the deal by then, the motion states, a lengthy extension is likely to follow.
“It is highly likely the European Council at its meeting the following day would require a clear purpose for any extension,” the motion states, “not least to determine its length, and any extension beyond 30 June 2019 would require the United Kingdom to hold European Parliament elections in May 2019.”
Facing loud shouts of “resign” from the opposition benches, Theresa May accepted parliament had expressed a “clear majority against leaving without a deal” but doubled down on her insistence that this remained the legal reality.
She said: “I will repeat what I have said before. This is about the choices that this house faces. The legal default in U.K. and EU law remains that the U.K. will leave the EU without a deal unless something else is agreed.”
May said there is only a short list of options available to MPs if they are determined to rule out no deal.
They could agree to her deal, put it to a second referendum or seek a different deal. “However, the EU have been clear that the deal on the table is indeed the only deal available,” she added.
May warned MPs that if they vote against a deal again, the extension demanded by EU leaders would “undoubtedly” require the U.K. to take part in the European Parliament election in May.
“I do not think that would be the right outcome,” she said. “But the house needs to face up to the consequences of the decisions it has taken.”
It was another bloody night for the prime minister, whose hoarse voice epitomized her almost physical struggle to keep going.
After losing the first vote of the evening — on an amendment to the government motion seeking a much stricter opposition to no-deal — the government was put in the bizarre position of whipping against its own (now amended) motion.
However, because the new amended motion mirrored the government in its opposition to no-deal, it left a number of Cabinet ministers and junior ministers who are fiercely opposed to leaving without a deal unable to vote with the government.
In the end, a host of government ministers abstained after apparently being given assurances they would not be forced to resign. These included Greg Clark, David Gauke, Amber Rudd and Claire Perry.
One minister, Sarah Newton, opted to resign to vote against the government, becoming the 15th member of the government to resign over Brexit.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the vote marks a welcome change of tone from U.K. legislators. “It’s a signal of reason that has just come from London. The House of Commons has shown that the majority does not want a no-deal. The no-deal is in nobody’s interest, we have made that clear again and again,” he said.
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