The UK House of Commons has voted to rule out the option of leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement in place.
The motion to eliminate the option of a no-deal Brexit, coming in the wake of the 149-vote loss of Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement yesterday evening, means MPs will vote again tomorrow on the option of extending Article 50 and delaying Brexit. However, MPs’ 321-278 rejection of a no-deal Brexit is not legally binding; and unless either a deal is reached or the UK’s exit from the EU is postponed or cancelled before 29 March, the UK will leave the EU on that date without a deal by legislative default.
The House heard two amendments to the principal motion; the first of which was the Spelman amendment, which rules out a no-deal Brexit at any time and under any circumstances. Caroline Spelman, who had initially put forward the amendment, later attempted to withdraw it; but the amendment was nonetheless put before the House by Spelman’s co-signatory Yvette Cooper and passed by 312 votes to 308. The Malthouse amendment, which would delay Brexit and further rewrite the Irish backstop, failed to pass; with 374 votes against and 164 in favour.
After the Spelman amendment passed, May’s Conservative government is alleged to have whipped its MPs to reject the principal motion, which it had originally put forward. A number of Conservative MPs either disobeyed the whip or abstained from voting.
The European Parliament held a further set of talks this morning, weighing in on May’s loss in the second meaningful vote last night and discussing the potential consequences of a no-deal Brexit for the EU. Melania Gabriela Ciot, speaking on behalf of the Romanian Council presidency, said: “We are not dealing with theatre, but real lives of EU and UK citizens. The only certainty we have is an increased uncertainty.”
On the subject of a potential Article 50 extension, Guy Verhofstadt told the European Parliament: “I don’t want a long extension. I say that very openly. An extension, where we go beyond the European elections, and the European elections will be hijacked by the Brexiters, and by the whole Brexit issues…The only thing we will do, we will give a new mandate to Mr [Nigel] Farage. That’s exactly what he wants. Why does he want that? For two reasons. First of all, he can continue to have a salary that he can transfer to his offshore company. And the second thing is that he can continue to do his dirty work in the European Union, that is to try to destroy the European Union from within…What we need is now certainty from the House of Commons … And so I am against every extension, whether an extension of one day, one week, even 24 hours, if it is not based on a clear opinion of the House of Commons for something, that we know what they want.”
Brexiteer MEP and potential Mueller investigation person of interest Nigel Farage urged the European Parliament to veto an Article 50 extension, saying: “I’m hoping this is my penultimate speech and I won’t be coming back in July. The House of Commons will do their upmost to betray the Brexit vote. The simple solution is that the British request to extend is vetoed.” Farage has previously declared his intention to accept the full £73,000 (€85,000) annual pension allotted to former MEPs once he leaves Parliament, leading to accusations of hypocrisy.
The European Parliament went on to vote for a range of measures to protect EU citizens in the event of a no-deal Brexit, including:
- Allowing uninterrupted learning activity to continue for ERASMUS students and teachers;
- Guaranteeing social security provision for EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the remaining Member States;
- Temporary measures to be put into place to minimise disruption of cross-border road, rail and air transport;
- Authorised export of “certain items used for civilian and military purposes” into the UK from the EU; and
- Reciprocal authorisation for British fishing vessels in EU waters and EU vessels in British waters.
With 16 days now left until Brexit, the House of Commons will vote again tomorrow over a potential extension to Article 50.