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Brexit votes: what happened, what it means and what comes next

The Guardian logo The Guardian 14/03/2019 Peter Walker Political correspondent
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MPs vote to delay Brexit beyond March 29 (Press Association)

MPs have been enjoying a third consecutive day of votes to shape the Brexit process. Having defeated Theresa May’s plan, and then ruled out a no-deal departure, Thursday’s votes were based around extending the Brexit deadline.

What has happened?

© Reuters In brief: the Commons voted to tell the government to try to extend the Brexit deadline beyond 29 March, as set out in a motion ministers were obliged to table after May’s Brexit plan was voted down on Tuesday. Five amendments were voted on – all were defeated, and one was pulled.

What was voted on?

It’s a little complex, so stick with me. First we had a cross-party amendment seeking a second referendum which was defeated by a huge margin – 334 votes to 85 (more on why below). Then came another cross-party amendment, to impose so-called indicative votes by MPs to determine a consensus outcome, which was defeated by just two votes, 314 to 312. Slightly confusingly this was preceded by an amendment to this amendment, seeking to limit any delay to Brexit caused by the process, which also narrowly lost.

Brexit in-depth: The latest news, analysis and expert opinion

Then there was a vote on a Labour front bench amendment pushing the party’s own Brexit plan, which fell by 318 votes to 302. We then had an amendment seeking to discover if, under parliamentary protocol, May can bring her Brexit plan back to the Commons again. It was pulled by its proposer, Labour’s Chris Bryant.

Finally, the main government motion on delaying Brexit, which was unamended, passed by 412 to 202.

So Brexit will be delayed?

Yes – on the assumption the EU member states unanimously agree. If they don’t – which seems unlikely – the UK still leaves on 29 March, but without a deal. The government motion decrees that the government will seek agreement with the EU for an extension to article 50 beyond 29 March.

Watch: Businesses bemoan Brexit 'comedy of errors' (Sky News)

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It says that if a Brexit plan is agreed by 20 March – it is widely assumed May will have a third try at squeezing her deal through the Commons early next week – then there will be a brief extension, until 30 June, allowing legislation to pass. If not, it will be for longer.

Will the UK be getting new MEPs?

If the longer extension happens then, according to the government, yes. The country would take part in the European elections 10 weeks from now. And, as we have learned this week, UK officials are already making contingency plans for such an eventuality.

Watch: Corbyn calls for second Brexit referendum (Bloomberg)

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But we won’t have indicative votes?

Well, perhaps, as it happens. Yes, the cross-party motion seeking to impose this on the government next week was very narrowly defeated. But opening the debate, May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, said the government would push for such a plan if May’s deal falls again and there is a resulting long delay to Brexit.

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Read more on Brexit:

Brexit secretary among eight ministers to vote against Article 50 extension (Sky News)

May earns Brexit reprieve, but there are plenty more bumps in the road (Sky News)

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Is this it for a second referendum?

It depends who you ask. Brexiters reacted to the crushing defeat of the plan by cheerily tweeting about its demise. But supporters of the scheme were adamant that this was an inevitable defeat for a premature attempt to force the issue. It is nonetheless a setback for them. What is – and always was – obvious is that if the plan is ever to pass in the Commons it will need the wholehearted, whipped support of the Labour leadership.

Watch: Farage concerned after MPs vote to delay Brexit (LBC)

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Was it a better day for Theresa May?

It was better than Wednesday, but that is, admittedly, a pretty low bar. May won the government motion (even though she did not want it) and the amendments were all seen off. But she had long promised that 29 March would be Brexit day, and it is a heavy political blow that she could not deliver this. Also, even allowing a free vote on the main motion did not prevent more signs of cabinet disunity, with a series of ministers lining up in the “no” lobby.

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