British MPs have decisively rejected the idea of the UK leaving the European Union (EU) without a deal and clearing the way for Brexit to be delayed, inflicting more defeats on the already embattled Prime Minister Theresa May.
After May’s deal was heavily voted down for a second time on Tuesday, she announced a government motion ruling out a no-deal Brexit on March 29 – overturning her longstanding policy of refusing to rule it out, the Guardian reported. May promised MPs a free vote, but the motion was carefully worded, with the final sentence stating that, “leaving without a deal remains the default in UK and EU law unless this house and the EU ratify an agreement”.
On Wednesday night, the MPs voted by 312 to 308 to support a backbench amendment which struck out that last phrase so as to rule out a no-deal exit altogether. The vote however, is not binding. Under current law the UK could still leave without a deal on March 29. In chaotic scenes in Parliament, the government then rescinded its promise of a free vote; and whipped its MPs to vote against the amended motion.
Several cabinet ministers who have warned about the risks of a no-deal Brexit, including Philip Hammond and Amber Rudd, appeared to abstain, but the government still lost the vote, by 321 votes to 278 – a majority of 43. Also on Wednesday night, the MPs by 374 to 164 to reject a plan to delay the UK’s departure from the EU until May 22, so that there can be what its supporters call a “managed no-deal” Brexit. After her defeat, May signalled she would gamble one last time on forcing through her Brexit deal, bringing forward a motion on Thursday on delaying the exit.
Without an agreed deal, she said, there would be a “much longer extension” that would require the UK to take part in European parliament elections. “I do not think that would be the right outcome.” The MPs will vote again on Thursday on whether to ask the EU for permission to delay the date for departure. Meanwhile, any request by the UK to delay Brexit must be agreed by Brussels, CNN reported.
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told Members of the European Parliament on Wednesday that the ball was firmly in London’s court. “It is UK’s responsibility to tell us what they want for our future relations. That is the question that needs to be posed to which we expect an answer. It will be a priority even before the question of an extension. Negotiations on Article 50 (the mechanism that laid down Britain’s departure date as March 29) are finished,” he said. “We have agreed a deal with the Prime Minister and the EU is ready to sign it… There are only two ways to leave the EU: with or without a deal. The EU is prepared for both.”