Brexit: Commons backs Bill seeking further delay

Legislation passes by one vote as May and Corbyn begin talks on way forward

 MPs voting in the House of Commons in London, Britain, on Wednesday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

MPs voting in the House of Commons in London, Britain, on Wednesday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images


Proposed legislation to further delay the date of Brexit has cleared the House of Commons by one vote.

MPs passed the Bill instructing British prime minister Theresa May to seek an extension to article 50 and avoid a no-deal Brexit on a third reading by 313 votes to 312.

The Bill now has to pass the upper chamber, the House of Lords.

The plan, spearheaded by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and the Conservative Oliver Letwin, was almost scuppered during a frenzied day in parliament after MPs voted by a majority of just one to let the snap Bill proceed.

After MPs voted 312 to 311 to allow the Bill to proceed, Ms Cooper and Mr Letwin then had four hours to pass the Bill’s second reading, committee stage and third reading through the Commons.

Minutes before the first vote, an amendment from Labour’s Hilary Benn to grant more time for indicative votes was blocked in extraordinary circumstances, as the speaker, John Bercow, was forced to make the casting vote after a tied result in the House of Commons.

Mr Benn’s amendment, which would have given MPs control over the order paper on Monday to hold further indicative votes on the way forward on Brexit, fell after MPs’ votes were tied with 310 each way, and Mr Bercow cast his decisive vote against the motion.

Meanwhile, Mrs May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn agreed a “programme of work” towards finding a common position on Brexit, following a meeting on Wednesday both sides described as constructive. The two leaders have appointed negotiating teams who will meet on Thursday for a full day of discussions.

“Today’s talks were constructive, with both sides showing flexibility and a commitment to bring the current Brexit uncertainty to a close. We have agreed a programme of work to ensure we deliver for the British people, protecting jobs and security,” a Downing Street spokesman said.

Mr Corbyn said after the meeting that he put forward Labour’s proposal for a customs union, “access to the single market and dynamic regulatory alignment” and a guarantee that Britain would not fall behind the EU in environmental, consumer and workers’ rights.

Two junior ministers resigned in protest after Mrs May’s decision to seek a compromise on Brexit with Mr Corbyn. Welsh Office minister Nigel Adams said the prime minister had made a “grave error” in seeking to pass a Brexit deal with Labour votes. And Chris Heaton-Harris said Mrs May’s decision to rule out a no-deal Brexit made pointless his role as a Brexit minister responsible for planning for that eventuality.

Cross-party consensus

During prime minister’s questions, five Conservative MPs criticised Mrs May for seeking Mr Corbyn’s assistance, reminding her that she had described him as a threat to Britain’s national security who was unfit to be prime minister. She said that MPs’ failure to back her Brexit deal or any alternatives made it necessary to seek a cross-party consensus.

“I want to deliver Brexit. I want to deliver Brexit in an orderly way. I want to do it as soon as possible. I want to do it without us having to fight European parliamentary elections. To do that, we need to get an agreement through this House on the withdrawal agreement and a deal. The House has rejected every proposal that has gone before it so far, as well as a second referendum and revoking article 50,” she said.

Mrs May was joined at the meeting with Mr Corbyn in her House of Commons office by cabinet office minister David Lidington, Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay, chief whip Julian Smith and officials. Mr Corbyn was joined by shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, chief whip Nick Brown, and Seumas Milne, the Labour leader’s director of communications and strategy.

In a letter to Labour MPs, Mr Corbyn said the two sides had agreed to further “technical discussions on a customs union and close single market alignment” but that he had made no commitments to the prime minister.

“It was agreed that the chief whips would meet to consider a timetable for a withdrawal agreement – with no commitment to support it.There was also discussion on what sort of legislative lock could be used to enforce any agreed changes. I also raised the prospect of a confirmatory vote. The prime minister remained resistant to this proposal,” he said.

However, later on Wednesday chancellor Philip Hammond said a “confirmatory” referendum on a Brexit deal was a “perfectly credible” idea. Additional reporting: Guardian/Reuters