The UK government has voted to request an extension to Article 50 and delay the date on which the UK will leave the EU.
MPs voted to extend Article 50 until 30 June by a majority of 412 to 202. The government confirmed today that it would seek a third “meaningful vote” this Tuesday, 19 March; if the vote does not pass, the UK will seek an extension to Article 50 at an EU summit on Thursday 21 March. If Brexit is delayed past the dates of the European elections in May, the UK may have to participate in the elections to avoid disenfranchising British citizens.
The government whipped its MPs to vote against all proposed amendments; while the Labour party announced before the vote that it would not formally back any amendment supporting a second referendum. The official People’s Vote campaign echoed Labour’s reticence, saying in a statement: “We recognise there is a range of opinions on when to press the case for the public being given the final say, which means some of these MPs will vote for the Wollaston amendment, some may vote against, and some will abstain. But we do not think today is the right time to test the will of the house on the case for a new public vote.” Labour MP Ruth Smeeth resigned her position as parliamentary private secretary to Deputy Leader Tom Watson after voting against a second referendum.
MPs voted on the following amendments to the principal motion:
- Amendment E, tabled by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, acknowledges the House’s wholesale rejection of May’s agreement and a no-deal Brexit and calls on the government to extend Article 50 for a sufficient period to “provide parliamentary time for this house to find a majority for a different approach”: this amendment failed by 318 to 302 votes;
- Amendment H, tabled by former Conservative MP and current Independent Group member Dr Sarah Wollaston, calls for an extension of Article 50 and a second referendum in which remaining in the EU will be an option – this amendment failed to pass, with 85 ayes and 334 noes;
- Amendment I, tabled by Labour MPs Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper, would enable MPs to take control of parliamentary business next Wednesday 20 March in order to debate options for Brexit, to be resolved with a series of indicative votes – this amendment was defeated by 314 to 312 votes;
- An additional amendment to Amendment I tabled by Lucy Powell MP to impose a deadline of 30 June on the planned debates, which failed to pass by 314 to 311 votes;
- Amendment J was originally tabled by Labour’s Chris Bryant; and would prevent a third meaningful vote on the same withdrawal agreement. Speaker of the House John Bercow yesterday drew the House’s attention to a passage in Erskine May, the authoritative treatise on British parliamentary practice; which prohibits the same motion from being put forward repeatedly after being rejected by MPs – as the withdrawal agreement has already failed to gain MPs’ approval twice, drawing the largest and fourth largest UK government defeats in modern history, the Erskine May passage could be argued to apply in this case. Bryant withdrew his amendment before the vote.
The following amendments were tabled but not heard:
- Amendment A, tabled by Plaid Cymru, called for a two-year extension to Article 50 to be followed by a second referendum;
- Amendment B, signed by around 100 Conservative MPs and two Labour Brexiters, would rule out a second referendum on the basis of its being “divisive and expensive”;
- Amendment C, jointly tabled by the Scottish National Party’s Angus Brendan MacNeil and Conservative Ken Clarke and signed by around 30 other MPs, would revoke Article 50 altogether;
- Amendment D, tabled by the Liberal Democrats, called for a delayed Brexit and a second referendum;
- Amendment F, tabled jointly by Plaid Cymru and the SNP, called for an extension to Article 50, followed by a second referendum in which remaining in the EU is a guaranteed option; with revoking Article 50 to be retained as an option in the interim; and
- Amendment G, tabled by Conservative Christopher Chope, advocated a two-month delay to Brexit “for the specific purpose of replacing the UK negotiating team”.
Speaker of the House John Bercow was criticised by a number of Conservative Brexiter MPs for not selecting any of the amendments which would categorically rule out a second referendum; although, as he pointed out, any MPs strongly opposed to a second referendum could vote against Amendment H without difficulty.