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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 3°C

MPs overwhelmingly back delaying Brexit if needed, as Labour says it will support second referendum

Unless Article 50 is extended, Theresa May has just one month to get a deal over the line.

MAY House of Commons / PA Wire/PA Images Prime Minister Theresa May House of Commons / PA Wire/PA Images / PA Wire/PA Images

MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT in the British House of Commons have overwhelmingly backed a proposal that could allow Brexit to be delayed. 

The motion, put forward by Labour MP Yvette Cooper, was passed by 502 votes to 20.

Essentially, MPs were voting on plans Prime Minister Theresa May proposed yesterday in relation to a series of Brexit-related votes being held next month. 

They have now formally backed the holding of a series of meaningful votes in the coming weeks to decide what form Brexit will take, including a potential vote on whether to seek to extend Article 50 and delay leaving the EU.

Twenty Conservative Party MPs voted against the proposal.

In an earlier vote Labour’s Brexit proposals – which called for a new customs union with the EU and close alignment with the bloc’s single market - were defeated by 323 votes to 240.

Afterwards, party leader Jeremy Corbyn said Labour would back a second referendum on Brexit “in order to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit or a disastrous no-deal outcome”.

We will also continue to push for the other available options to prevent those outcomes, including a close economic relationship based on our credible alternative plan or a general election.

May faces an uphill battle to get a Brexit deal over the line. The draft Withdrawal Agreement struck between her government and the EU was rejected by the House of Commons by 432 votes to 202 last month.

She is seeking reassurances on certain elements of the deal, in particular the backstop related to Northern Ireland. European leaders have repeatedly said the deal cannot be renegotiated. 

Many politicians have raised concerns about the backstop element of the deal, which aims to avoid a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland and could see the North stay aligned to some EU rules.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which campaigned in favour of Brexit and props up May’s minority government, believes the backstop threatens the United Kingdom and could lead to a trade border in the Irish Sea.

Seeking a delay 

If May fails to get the House of Commons to back a deal, MPs are expected to vote on 13 and 14 March on whether to leave the EU with no deal, or to seek a delay.

“The government’s policy is to get the legally binding changes so a deal can be brought back to this house … and we can leave on March 29 with a deal,” May said ahead of the vote.

Any delay must be approved by the other 27 EU member states. Some of the bloc’s leaders have questioned whether a short delay would achieve much. 

“We don’t need more time: what we need most of all is a decision,” French President Emmanuel Macron said after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris.

“If Britain needs more time, then clearly we shall not refuse,” added Merkel, without mentioning conditions.

In Madrid, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said: “Although Spain will not oppose granting a possible extension, this must have an assured perspective of resolution.”

EU citizens’ rights 

May has repeatedly ruled out delaying Brexit, even after her deal was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs in January.

Her u-turn yesterday prompted outrage among Tory hardliners, with Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg warning that “any delay to Brexit is a plot to stop Brexit”.

However, May’s change of plan averted a rebellion by pro-Europeans who fear economic chaos if Britain ends its 46-year-old relationship with the EU without a deal.

In a rare moment of unity, MPs approved without a vote an amendment seeking to protect the rights of 3.6 million Europeans living in Britain, and more than one million Britons living in EU countries.

It calls on the government to make efforts to preserve the rights of those expats set out in the divorce agreement, even in a no-deal scenario.

Conservative MP Alberto Costa said his amendment “does not deal in goods or services, backstops or borders, but people, living and breathing, skin and bone”. 

Costa was forced to quit as a junior minister because he was not technically allowed to put forward the amendment.

MPs also rejected a Scottish National Party motion which stated that the UK should not leave the EU without a deal “under any circumstances” – by 324 votes to 288.

Contains reporting from © AFP 2019  

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