MPs will vote on Thursday on whether to delay Brexit by extending Article 50, but the decision is not unilateral.
London, United Kingdom – With just over two weeks to go until the Brexit deadline, the British parliament has signalled that it is strongly against leaving the European Union without a deal.
After politicians rejected British Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to quit the EU for a second time on Tuesday, the government on Wednesday put forward a motion to rule out a “no-deal” Brexit on March 29, the current deadline.
MPs then backed an amendment to that motion, which rules out a no-deal Brexit under any circumstances. The motion as amended was passed by 321 votes to 278.
Wednesday’s vote is not legally binding, however, and does not rule out a no-deal Brexit altogether.
A deal or another alternative needs Parliament’s approval.
MPs on Wednesday also voted down an amendment which resurrected elements of the “Malthouse compromise” for a “managed no-deal”, supported by prominent Brexiters. That amendment included a delay to May 22 for preparations.
The prime minister confirmed that a vote on extending Article 50 will take place as promised on Thursday.
“The options before us are the same as they always have been,” she warned, reiterating that voting for a deal is the only way of avoiding no deal.
Fears that a “no-deal” Brexit could have serious consequences for the UK economy and its citizens in the EU, as well as EU citizens in the UK, have increased since May’s deal was first voted down in January.
Small and medium-sized businesses, in particular, have admitted they are not ready for a no-deal scenario.
May said that if MPs back a deal by March 20, she will seek a “short, limited, technical extension” to ratify the deal.
If they do not, however, she will seek a longer extension – meaning the UK will have to take part in the European Parliament elections at the end of May.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said a compromise solution should be found on options for a softer Brexit.
If MPs on Thursday vote to delay Brexit, the prime minister will put forward a formal request to the European Union for an extension of Article 50.
May wants to avoid an extension that would oblige the UK to take part in the European Parliament elections while in the process of exiting the bloc.
That means the new deadline would have to be before the new assembly’s first sitting on July 2.
Any extension of Article 50 would have to be agreed by all 27 remaining EU member states.
The next opportunity to do that will be on March 21-22, when the next European Council convenes.
The EU has said that in the event of a delay, the UK must provide a good reason for postponing the divorce date.
“I don’t want a long extension,” said the European Parliament’s lead Brexit spokesman, Guy Verhofstadt, addressing MEPs in Brussels on Wednesday.
“An extension, where we go beyond the European elections, and the European elections will be hijacked by the Brexiters.
“We will talk only about [Brexit], and not about the real problems, and the real reforms we need in the European Union,” the spokesman added.
Verhofstadt hit out at Nigel Farage, the far-right former UKIP leader and MEP, by saying that a long extension would only give him a new mandate to “continue to have a salary that he can transfer to his offshore company” while trying “to destroy the European Union from within”.
In response, Farage urged EU leaders to veto the Article 50 extension “so that both you and we can get on with the rest of our lives”.
Farage led the UK’s unofficial “leave” campaign, convincing Britons in their millions to vote for quitting the EU in a June 23, 2016 referendum.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said after parliament rejected May’s deal on Tuesday that the risk of a no-deal Brexit, whether by plan or by accident, “has never been higher”.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove, meanwhile, has hinted that the government may also – on Thursday – move to hold a series of indicative votes on Brexit options.