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MPs reject no-deal in second vote

Brexit delay possible after MPs vote against leaving European Union without a deal
a large crowd of people: Tellers announce the results of the vote on a no-deal Brexit.

Tellers announce the results of the vote on a no-deal Brexit.
© Reuters

MPs have inflicted two more defeats on Theresa May, rejecting the idea of Britain leaving the EU without a deal and clearing the way for Brexit to be delayed.

After the prime minister’s deal was heavily voted down for a second time on Tuesday, she announced a government motion ruling out a no-deal Brexit on 29 March – overturning her longstanding policy of refusing to rule it out.

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”.

However, 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.

In chaotic scenes, the government then rescinded its promise of a free vote; and whipped its MPs to vote against the amended motion.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.

The prime minister responded with a defiant statement, insisting a no-deal Brexit could only be avoided by agreeing a deal, or cancelling Brexit.

She said she would bring forward a motion on Thursday on delaying Brexit which would “set out the fundamental choice facing this house”.

If MPs agreed a deal, she said the government would request a “short, technical extension” to article 50. 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, adding: “I do not think that would be the right outcome.”

The Labour MP Yvette Cooper moved the amendment, after its other signatories, the Conservative MP Caroline Spelman and Labour’s Jack Dromey, decided not to push it to a vote.

The vote does not definitively preclude a no-deal Brexit – MPs must still agree a deal, or extend or revoke article 50 in order to do that – but it underlined both the strength of feeling at Westminster and the government’s loss of control over the process.

Ex-remainer cabinet ministers, including Rudd and David Gauke, had urged colleagues not to press the amendment to a vote, arguing it would send a stronger message to achieve a clear majority on the government motion.

Related slideshow:Theresa May's political career in pictures (Provided by Photo Services)

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 12: British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves number 11 Downing Street ahead of Prime Minister's Question session (PMQs) on September 12, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

A second amendment, urging the government to pursue the “Malthouse compromise” – essentially a form of managed no deal – was heavily defeated, by a majority of 210, despite May offering a free vote.

Steve Baker, of the Brexit-backing European Research Group, claimed some cabinet ministers had supported the amemdment.

May made clear on Tuesday that MPs would have to decide how they wanted to use any extension; and several cabinet ministers, including Philip Hammond, have dropped heavy hints they would like to see the extra time used to identify a cross-party consensus.

At the end of his spring statement earlier on Wednesday, Hammond said: “Tonight we have a choice: we can remove the threat of an imminent no-deal exit hanging over our economy.

“Tomorrow, we will have the opportunity to start to map out a way forward towards building a consensus across this house for a deal we can collectively support to exit the EU in an orderly way.”

His comments followed May’s own remarks on Tuesday, after her Brexit deal went down to a second heavy defeat, by a majority of 149.

She said that if the UK requested an extension to article 50, “the EU will want to know what use we mean to make of such an extension. This house will have to answer that question.”

Related slideshow: How companies are reacting to Brexit (Provided by Photo Services)

Multiple exposure of city commuters crossing London Bridge and skyscrapers in London

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