British MPs reject govt's 'no-deal' Brexit motion

Vidya Ram London | Updated on March 14, 2019 Published on March 13, 2019

British Prime Minister Theresa May answers questions in the House of Commons in London   -  House of Commons

More uncertainty as PM May loses vote which ruled out a 'no-deal' Brexit, but only on March 29.

The British government has suffered another significant defeat as MPs voted to reject a 'no-deal' Brexit at any time, overriding the government’s initial motion that ruled out a 'no-deal' but only on March 29 and left open the possibility of it taking place at a later stage.

There were gasps in the House of Commons chamber as the amendment by Conservative MP Caroline Spelman scraped through by a margin of 4 (312 votes to 308). In a dramatic turn of events shortly before the vote, Spelman herself attempted to withdraw the amendment – which the government was ordering its MPs to vote against – but Speaker of the House John Bercow declined to do this automatically, insisting it could still be voted on if one of its other backers continue to press it.

In a subsequent vote on the amended motion, MPs once again backed ruling out a 'no-deal' Brexit by 321 to 278 votes.

The vote is non-binding on the government and does not ensure the UK can't crash out without a deal on March 29. For now, Britain has three options: leave the EU on the said date even if a deal is not struck, revoke Article 50 or extend the negotiations if both sides agree.

The EU has made clear that it will only agree to an extension if there is "credible" justification for it, and not simply for the political impasse in Parliament to continue. In addition some Brexit supporters, such as Nigel Farage, have been lobbying EU countries to veto any attempt by Britain to push for an extension.

Nevertheless, the defeat is highly significant, indicative of the extent to which authority has been slipping away from the Prime Minister.

With it clear that Parliament is against leaving without a deal, the pressure will be on for her to resolve the political impasse through compromise. That message was certainly put forward by Chancellor Philip Hammond earlier in the day as – while delivering his “spring” statement on Britain’s borrowing and spending forecasts – said MPs had a “solemn duty in the days ahead to put aside our differences and seek a compromise.”

The Labour party has accused the government of putting on a pretence of being prepared to negotiate because of May’s refusal to consider Labour’s proposals which include remaining in a customs union and close single market alignment.

Speaking after the votes, a visibly shaken May said that the onus was on Parliament to find out what they agreed on. In the meantime, as previously promised the government will hold a vote on Thursday on enabling a “short technical” extension to Brexit – with enough time to break the political stalemate but short enough to ensure Britain doesn’t have to participate in the European Parliament elections in the summer.

If this were not accepted, then it would raise the possibility of a “much longer extension to Article 50,” requiring the UK to participate in those EU elections, May said – in a clear warning to Brexiteers.

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Published on March 13, 2019
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