MPs vote for Article 50 extension

MPs voted last night for the Government’s motion to seek an extension to Article 50, by 412 votes to 202 – a majority of 210. The motion stipulated that if the House of Commons passes the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement by 20 March, the Government will seek a one-off delay to Brexit to 30 June. The motion also noted that if the House of Commons does not pass the Brexit deal before 20 March, then it is “highly likely that the European Council at its meeting the following day would require a clear purpose for any extension, not least to determine its length.”

This came after a cross-party amendment to the motion by Labour MP Hilary Benn was narrowly defeated by 314 votes to 312. The Benn amendment aimed for Parliament to take control of the order paper on 20th March, with a view to holding indicative votes on Brexit options thereafter. 16 Conservatives voted for the Benn amendment, against a three-line whip. A separate Labour amendment by party leader Jeremy Corbyn, which sought for “a different approach” to Brexit during an extension, was rejected by 318 votes to 302.

Another amendment by Independent Group MP Sarah Wollaston, calling for a second referendum to be held during an Article 50 extension, was defeated by 334 votes to 85. The Labour Party abstained, although 25 of their MPs voted for and 18 of their MPs voted against. Five Labour shadow frontbenchers resigned after defying instructions to abstain on the motion. The official People’s Vote campaign had also recommended an abstention, with senior official and former Labour director of communications, Alastair Campbell, warning that the amendment was being pushed at “[the] wrong time and I fear the wrong reasons.”

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister confirmed yesterday that she will make a third attempt to pass the EU Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament next week. A date has not been confirmed, but it is expected that the Government will aim to move it at the start of next week, in time for Thursday’s European Council. This came as Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday said he welcomes the “vote for an extension as it reduces the likelihood of a cliff-edge, No Deal Brexit on March 29th,” adding, “But we now need to hear from London about what purpose an extension would serve and how long it would last…I think we need to be open to any request they make, listen attentively and be generous in our response.” Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said a long extension of 21 months was a “possibility,” and would give the UK a “long reflection period.”

Separately, Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington said, “If we are in the world of a longer extension, for this House to come to a decision, then we will be required as a condition to hold European parliamentary elections in May… We either deliver on the result of the referendum, giving people and business across the country the certainty they are calling for and move on as a nation, or we enter into a sustained period of uncertainty during which time the Government would work with this house to find a way through but which I fear would do real damage to the public’s faith in politics and trust in our democracy.”

Open Europe’s Henry Newman told BBC News yesterday, “The negotiations are basically done, and the options are narrowing,” adding, “Some Brexiteers might be realising that the Brexit they might have preferred is not on offer.” He also told Al Jazeera English, “People are shifting their positions…If [Theresa May] can manage to persuade the 10 DUP MPs, it might look like a situation where she could, with some Labour support, ultimately win [the vote].”

Newman also appeared on the Guardian Politics Weekly podcast and the HuffPost UK’s podcast.

Anna Nadibaidze: Under which conditions would the EU27 agree to an Article 50 extension?

In an updated version of previous analysis, Open Europe’s Anna Nadibaidze looks at the different positions of the EU27 on a possible Article 50 extension and the conditions member states may demand when the UK demands for one. She writes, “The general consensus remains that member states will not oppose a request for a delay,” adding, “For most member states, the most important condition remains for the UK to provide clarity and guarantees for extending Article 50 will actually help Theresa May get her deal through the House of Commons.” However, the EU27 have nuanced positions on what happens if the deal does not pass: “Some member states, such as Austria and Germany, have stressed that there should be no extension beyond EU elections in May, suggesting that the delay could only be a short one in any scenario. Others, such as Ireland and Portugal, have suggested that if the UK needs to reconsider its choices, they would be willing to have a longer extension of up to 21 months.” She notes, “Taken together, there is still the prospect of a ‘two-pronged’ offer from the EU on extension – under which the extension would be a technical, short one of up to three months if the deal is passed by a certain date, but much longer (between 9 and 21 months) if it is not.”

Elsewhere, in a piece for the Telegraph, Open Europe’s Pieter Cleppe writes that EU officials “might need to think twice before they” suggest a longer Brexit extension, as it would mean the UK participating in European elections.

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