House of Commons rejects no-deal Brexit in any circumstances
Chaotic evening at Westminster sees Tory party discipline collapse as delay looks inevitable
A pro-Brexit supporter stands at a bus stop after demonstrating outside Westminster in London. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
After the prime minister’s deal was heavily voted down in the House of Commons for a second time on Tuesday, she announced a government motion ruling out a no-deal Brexit on March 29th - overturning her longstanding policy of refusing to rule it out.
Mrs 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In chaotic scenes, the government then rescinded its promise of a free vote; and whipped its MPs to vote against the amended motion.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 Amber Rudd, abstained; 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 avoided by agreeing a deal, or cancelling Brexit.
She said she would now bring forward a motion on delaying Brexit, that 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 hold elections to the European parliament, adding, “I do not think that would be the right outcome.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said extending Article 50 was “now inevitable”. “In the last 24 hours Parliament has decisively rejected both her deal and no deal,” he said. “While an extension of Article 50 is now inevitable, responsibility for that extension lies solely and squarely at the prime minister’s door.”
Calling on Parliament to “take control”, Mr Corbyn said MPs must now find a “compromise solution” — including a People’s Vote — as “that’s what we were elected to do”.
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 votes 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.
Former Remainer cabinet ministers, including Amber 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.
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 Mrs May offering a free vote.
Steve Baker, of the Brexit-backing European Research Group, claimed some cabinet ministers had supported the amemdment.
The government has promised another vote on Thursday, on whether to delay Brexit by requesting an extension to the article 50 process.
Mrs 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, Mr 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 Mrs 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.” – Guardian News and Media 2019