“Brexit: May to try to persuade MPs for third time to back deal”, BBC News
London, 5 March 2019
Prime Minister Theresa May will try to persuade MPs for a third time to back her Brexit deal over the coming days.
The Commons will vote on her withdrawal agreement by 20 March, after MPs agreed to ask the EU to delay Brexit beyond the current 29 March departure date.
Tory MPs and the DUP are seeking further legal assurances over the deal.
Cabinet Minister David Lidington said there was “real impatience” in Europe and unless MPs agreed a deal, the EU could seek a delay of more than a year.
European Council President Donald Tusk has said EU leaders could be open to a long extension “if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy”.
Over the past week, a series of Brexit votes have taken place in the Commons:
- On Tuesday, MPs rejected Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement for a second time by 149 votes
- On Wednesday, MPs voted to reject the idea of the UK leaving the EU without a deal under any circumstances. However, that vote was not legally-binding – and under current law the UK could still leave without a deal on 29 March
- Then, on Thursday, the Commons voted by 413 to 202 to seek an extension to Article 50 – the legal mechanism by which the UK is due to leave the EU
It is still technically possible that we could leave the EU at the end of this month – the law has not changed.
But politically it is now almost entirely out of reach.
The prime minister is accepting she will miss one of the biggest targets she has ever set herself.
Thursday’s vote was awkward for another reason, as it again displays the Conservatives’ fundamental divisions.
This is more than a quarrel among friends, but a party that is split down the middle on one of the most vital questions this administration has posed, with cabinet ministers, as well as backbench Brexiteers, lining up to disagree with Theresa May.
Any delay will require the agreement of all other 27 EU members, with talks about possible conditions for an extension to take place before next week’s EU summit – which begins on Thursday.
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If MPs approve Mrs May’s deal before the Brussels summit, she could ask the EU to delay Brexit until 30 June.
Alternatively, there could be a much longer delay, requiring the UK to take part in elections for the European Parliament in May, the prime minister has said, in the event her deal is not approved.
Some MPs have suggested looking into whether the issues around the deal could be solved by using Article 62 of the Vienna Convention – which would allow the UK to withdraw from any treaty if there been “a fundamental change of circumstances… which was not foreseen by the parties”.
Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom said the government’s Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, had considered the matter and would comment further if he thought it was necessary.
Will EU leaders agree to an extension?
Analysis by BBC Europe editor Katya Adler
In contrast to the sound and fury coming out of Westminster on Thursday night, the silence on EU leaders’ Twitter accounts was deafening.
In part it is surely a stunned silence. Europe’s politicians gaze open mouthed at the maelstrom of division and chaos currently whirling through the House of Commons.
Three years after the UK voted to leave the EU – two weeks before the official Brexit day – Parliament appears to be in meltdown with no unifying solution in sight.
EU politicians breathe deep, shuddering sighs at the thought of prolonging the cross-Channel agony of the Brexit process.
So will they or won’t they agree to an extension? What conditions could they demand and how long would Brexit be delayed by?
Mr Lidington, who is regarded as Mrs May’s de facto deputy, told the BBC that, although the risk of the UK leaving without a deal had “diminished” as a result of this week’s votes, it could still happen unless an alternative solution was found.
He urged MPs to “reflect” over the weekend on the deal on the table, which he said had the “great virtue” of having the backing of all 27 other EU governments and, most likely, the European Parliament too.
“I think there is some real impatience among the British public, and frankly among other EU governments, with this inability to agree in Westminster on the way forward,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“The alternative, spelt out very clearly and accepted by the House of Commons, is that you don’t just have a short technical extension to our membership. You almost certainly need a significantly longer one.”
Conservative and Labour divisions exposed
The past week’s votes have exposed divisions in the UK’s two largest parties.
More than half of Tory MPs – including seven cabinet ministers – voted against Mrs May’s motion to put back the date when Britain leaves the EU.
Downing Street said this was a “natural consequence” of Mrs May’s decision to offer a free vote on an issue where there are “strong views on all sides of the debate”.
And in the Labour Party, 41 MPs rebelled against party orders on Thursday to abstain in a vote on a possible new referendum – with 24 supporting a referendum and 17 voting to oppose one.
Five of those MPs have resigned from their roles in the party as a result.
Shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner said Thursday’s vote was about securing an extension to negotiations and was not the right time to vote for another referendum.
“If it’s the only way we can stop a no deal or a bad deal, then that is when it comes into play,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Gina Miller, who took the government to court to force them to consult Parliament on the Brexit process, also told the programme she did not believe Thursday was the right time to push for another referendum – but insisted the option was not off the table, despite being heavily defeated by MPs.
“You have to try and exhaust all the other options first and if parliament can’t resolve it, it’s at that point that it goes back to the people,” she said.