MPs back vote on delaying Brexit if May’s deal fails to win majority

Macron warns Britain cannot expect EU to agree to delay if it only postpones negotiating deadline

MPs have voted overwhelmingly to hold Theresa May to her commitment to give them a vote on delaying Brexit if her withdrawal agreement fails to win a majority within the next two weeks.

Just 20 hardline Brexiteers voted against the amendment tabled by Labour's Yvette Cooper, which the government agreed to support.

The prime minister has promised to put her Brexit deal to a “meaningful vote” by March 12th, and if it is rejected, to allow MPs to vote by March 13th on whether they want to leave the EU without a deal on March 29th.

If they reject a no-deal Brexit they will be able to vote on March 14th to tell the government to seek an extension to the article 50 negotiating deadline.


French president Emmanuel Macron warned on Wednesday, however, that Britain could not expect the EU to agree to delay Brexit if it only postpones the negotiating deadline.

“We would support an extension request only if it was justified by a new choice of the British,” he said. “But we would in no way accept an extension without a clear objective.”

Mrs May said on Wednesday that she wished to avoid seeking an extension by securing the changes to the Northern Ireland backstop that would persuade a majority of MPs to back her deal.

But during prime minister's questions, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said she had made her task more difficult by calling the March 29th deadline into question.

“The prime minister, and indeed the entire house, knows the conditions under which her withdrawal agreement will have a majority. The whole house, and indeed the country, now knows that as a result of yesterday’s events the prospects of the prime minister being able to achieve the necessary changes have been undermined and her negotiating position has been weakened. That is the reality of the situation,” he said.

Second referendum

MPs rejected Labour’s amendment outlining its plan for Brexit, which includes a permanent customs union and close alignment with the single market.

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer confirmed that the amendment’s defeat meant that the party would now seek a second referendum on Brexit.

“We will be faced in two weeks with what I think will be the prime minister’s red-line deal or no deal. In our manifesto we rejected both, and in those circumstances we would either put forward or support a motion on a public vote with a credible leave option . . . with the other option being remain,” he said.

Mr Starmer said that Mrs May was unlikely to secure significant changes to the backstop, and he dismissed proposals to replace the backstop with technological and administrative arrangements to reduce friction on the Border.

“It is a mistake to think that the only issue is, technically, how to get people or goods over a line in the road. That Border is the manifestation of peace: it is a settlement between two communities.

“Therefore, the very idea that this is just a technical exercise does not understand the nature of that Border.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times