LONDON, Mar 14: British MPs have voted to reject the possibility of the UK leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement in place, a move set to delay the March 29 Brexit deadline.
British Prime Minister Theresa May had tabled a government motion against a no-deal Brexit within the March 29 deadline, which was passed by the House of Commons with a majority of 43 votes as 321 MPs backed it and 278 opposed it on Wednesday.
This would now require the Commons to pass a new vote, expected on Thursday, which will authorise May to go back to the EU and seek an extension to Article 50 ? the legal mechanism for Britain’s exit from the union.
May said there was a “clear majority” against a no-deal Brexit but the “legal default” was that the UK would leave without a deal on March 29 if no deal is reached unless that is legally changed with another vote and EU ratification.
“The legal default in UK and EU law remains that the UK will leave the EU without a deal unless something else is agreed. The onus is now on every one of us in this House to find out what that is,” May said in her statement soon after another long Brexit day in the Commons.
She also warned that any extension to the Brexit deadline will be pointless unless the House also set out a plan for the kind of deal it can support.
Before the vote on the government’s motion, a non-binding vote tabled to demand that a no-deal Brexit is ruled out under all circumstances marked yet another defeat for May as her Conservative Party MPs defied the government whip to vote in favour of it ?312 to 308.
While that vote was intended as indicative rather than prescriptive, it reinforced the Parliament view to ensure that some kind of a withdrawal agreement must be in place before Britain can formally leave the EU.
MPs also voted 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.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that Parliament must now take control of the Brexit process and his party will work across the House of Commons to seek a compromise solution.
He said: “In the last 24 hours Parliament has decisively rejected both her [May] deal and no deal.
“While an extension of Article 50 is now inevitable, responsibility for that extension lies solely and squarely at the Prime Minister’s door.”
All eyes will now be on a vote on Thursday, which is most likely expected to seek an extension to the time available for the UK to negotiate a new divorce arrangement with the EU. This would have to be ratified by the EU and the length of extension will become the next focus on both sides. However, how the EU will react to an extension request remains unclear at this stage, given that it is preparing for its own EU elections towards the end of May.
The EU side has expressed dismay at the agreement being rejected by Britain for a second time since the last vote in January and said it would need “a credible justification” before agreeing to any extension.
Unless agreed otherwise, Britain leaving the EU by March 29 remains the default Brexit option by law.
The March-end deadline had kicked in when the UK triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty following a referendum in favour of Brexit by nearly 52 per cent to 48 per cent in June 2016.
Unless MPs are able to rule out leaving by March 29 without any exit strategy or agreed terms, the UK is set to crash out of the bloc leading to deep uncertainties for businesses relying on cross-border arrangements. (PTI)