U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has offered Members of Parliament the chance to vote on delaying Brexit if her deal is voted down next month.
In a statement Tuesday before the House of Commons, May announced that a “meaningful vote” will be held by 12 March. If the government has not won a meaningful vote by 12 March, she said, then it would put forward a motion for the following day, asking MPs if they support leaving the EU without a deal on 29 March. “The United Kingdom will only leave without a deal on 29 March if there is explicit consent in this House for that outcome,” she said.
If MPs reject a no-deal Brexit, May said she will give them a vote on 14 March on whether Parliament wants to “seek a short, limited extension to Article 50,” which could then be negotiated with the EU. If MPs vote for an extension, the government would bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date.
May said these commitments fit the timescale set out in the Yvette Cooper’s Private Member’s Bill, which provides a role for MPs in the process of “extending” Article 50.
“Let me be clear, I do not want to see Article 50 extended,” May said in her remarks. “Our absolute focus should be working to get a deal and leaving on the 29 March.”
She also expressed the concern that “an extension beyond the end of June would mean U.K. taking part in the European Parliament elections” and that a short extension “would almost certainly have to be a one-off.”
“If we had not taken part in the European Parliament elections, it would be extremely difficult to extend again, so it would create a much sharper cliff edge in a few months,” May said. “An extension cannot take no deal off the table. The only way to do that is to revoke Article 50, which I shall not do or agree a deal.”
Nigel Dodds, Deputy Leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, reiterated that it will not support any Brexit deal that does not have a way out of the so-called Irish backstop, which is effectively a legally binding insurance policy in U.K.-EU Brexit negotiations to ensure no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. “She must know that without a legally watertight way out of the backstop,” Dodds said, “then certainly we could not support any future withdrawal agreement brought to this House.”
Addressing the House of Commons in response to May’s statement, opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said he will back another referendum on Brexit if Labour’s own version of a Brexit deal fails to pass this week, as is widely expected. Corbyn, who originally refused to back a new referendum, begrudgingly bowed to pressure after nine lawmakers quit the Labour Party last week in protest of his leadership.
“Labour accepts the result of the 2016 referendum, but we believe in getting the terms of our exit right,” Corbyn said. “That’s why we believe in our alternative plan.”
Corbyn added that Labour’s “credible plan…could bring the country back together, provide certainty for people and safeguard jobs and industry.” He said Labour’s proposals are “workable and could be negotiated.”
May “promises a short extension, but for what?” Corbyn said. “If the government wants a genuine renegotiation, it should do so on terms that can win a majority of this House, on terms backed by businesses and unions and that are contained within Labour’s amendment, which I urge the whole House to back tomorrow.”