Brexit vote: No-deal scenario 'likely' following rejection of May's Withdrawal Agreement

Brexit protesters rally outside of the Parliament in London. Picture: EPA/Neil Hall

  • British MPs have rejected Theresa May's EU Withdrawal Agreement by a margin of 58 votes - 344 to 286
  • Responding to the vote, European Council President Donald Tusk has called a meeting of the council on April 10
  • Mrs May now has until April 12 to go back to Brussels with new proposals and seek a longer extension to the negotiation process, or see the UK leave without a deal that day

Latest: The European Commission has released a statement following this afternoon’s rejection of Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement, calling no-deal “a likely scenario”.

The statement reads: “The Commission regrets the negative vote in the House of Commons today.

“As per the European Council (Article 50) decision on 22 March, the period provided for in Article 50(3) is extended to 12 April.

“It will be for the UK to indicate the way forward before that date, for consideration by the European Council.

“A ‘no-deal’ scenario on 12 April is now a likely scenario. The EU has been preparing for this since December 2017 and is now fully prepared for a ‘no-deal’ scenario at midnight on 12 April. The EU will remain united.

“The benefits of the Withdrawal Agreement, including a transition period, will in no circumstances be replicated in a ‘no-deal’ scenario. Sectoral mini-deals are not an option.”

Downing Street said that despite the Government losing the vote, it was still not an “inevitability” that the UK would have to take part in elections to the European Parliament in May.

A No 10 source indicated that Theresa May would continue to seek support in the Commons for her deal.

“Clearly it was not the result we wanted. But, that said, we have had a number of senior Conservative colleagues who have felt able to vote with the Government today. They have done so in higher numbers than previously,” the source said.

“Clearly there is more work to do. We are at least going in the right direction.”

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, tweeted: “The only way to avoid a no deal now is for MPs to finally act next week & define a cross-party way forward.

“If they do, we are ready to change the Political Declaration,” he added.

Theresa May's deal has been defeated; European Council to meet April 10

Update 2.55pm: Brexit is on course for a lengthy delay after MPs rejected Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement by a margin of 58 votes.

In dramatic scenes in the House of Commons, MPs voted by 344 to 286 against the deal as hundreds of protesters staged a noisy demonstration outside on the day when the UK was due to leave the European Union.

The 10 DUP MPs voted against the deal along with 34 Conservative, 234 Labour, 34 SNP, 11 Liberal Democrats, four Plaid Cymru, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and 16 Independents.

The result of the crunch vote means that the UK has missed an EU deadline to secure an extension of the Brexit process and leave with a deal on May 22.

Mrs May now has until April 12 to go back to Brussels with new proposals and seek a longer extension to the negotiation process, or see the UK leave without a deal that day.

British Prime Minister Theresa May made a last-ditch plea for MPs to back her deal (PA Wire/PA Images)
British Prime Minister Theresa May made a last-ditch plea for MPs to back her deal (PA Wire/PA Images)

With a clear majority in the Commons against no-deal, and with MPs once more seizing control of the timetable on Monday, Mrs May said that the UK would have to find “an alternative way forward”.

This was “almost certain” to involve the UK having to stage elections to the European Parliament in May, she said.

Following the defeat, Mrs May said that it was a "profound regret".

She said the implications of the vote were “grave” adding: “I fear we are reaching the limits of the process in this House.”

Responding to the vote, European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: “In view of the rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement by the House of Commons, I have decided to call a European Council on 10 April.”

Speaking after the vote, Mrs May said: “The European Union has been clear that any further extension will need to have a clear purpose and will need to be agreed unanimously by the heads of the other 27 member states ahead of April 12.

“It is also almost certain to involve the UK being required to hold European parliamentary elections.

“On Monday, this House will continue the process to see if there is a stable majority for a particular alternative version of our future relationship with the EU. Of course, all of the options will require the Withdrawal Agreement.

I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House. This House has rejected no-deal. It has rejected no Brexit. On Wednesday it rejected all the variations of the deal on the table, and today it has rejected approving the Withdrawal Agreement alone and continuing a process on the future.

“This Government will continue to press the case for the orderly Brexit that the result of the referendum demands.”

Reacting to the vote, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: "The Democratic Unionist Party has consistently and repeatedly indicated that we could not support the Withdrawal Agreement because of the construction of the backstop.

“We have reached this view from a principled position as we do not believe the Withdrawal Agreement is the best way forward for the United Kingdom.”

He added that “good progress” had been made in talks with the Government on domestic legislation to ensure the “economic integrity” of the UK but “sufficient progress has not been made”.

The DUP has encouraged the UK Government to return to Brussels to deal with the backstop issue.

“We deeply regret the numerous missed opportunities by those who negotiated on behalf of the UK to listen to our warnings about the dangers of the backstop and to take steps to remedy those deficiencies.

“Over the coming weeks and months, we will continue to play a central role to chart a route that respects the democratic desire to leave the European Union but that does so in a way that strengthens our United Kingdom.”

The British Prime Minister’s official spokesman said ministers would continue to talk to the DUP about further reassurances regarding the Northern Ireland backstop.

“What the Prime Minister wants is to secure a deal that allows us to leave as soon as possible. She is going to continue to press for that,” the spokesman said.

“We will continue to talk to MPs across the House of Commons. You can expect us to seek to continue discussions with the DUP about what more we can do in providing reassurance that Northern Ireland wouldn’t be left behind in any backstop.”

A No 10 source added: “It is overwhelmingly in the national interest that we arrive at a successful conclusion to phase one of the negotiations and that is her entire focus.”

'Last opportunity to guarantee Brexit', says May

Update 2.20pm: British Prime Minister Theresa May, concluding the debate, said: "Today should have been the day the UK left the EU - that we are not leaving today is a matter of deep personal regret to me.

"But I remain committed to the UK leaving the EU and that is why I brought this motion to the House today.

There are those who will say 'the House has rejected every option so far, you'll probably lose so why bother?' - I bother because this is the last opportunity to guarantee Brexit.

"And I say to all those who campaigned to leave, who voted to leave, who represent constituencies that voted leave, indeed all of us who want to deliver on the vote to leave - if we do not vote for this motion today people will ask 'why did you not vote for Brexit?'.

"By voting for this motion today we can send a message to the public and European Union that Britain stands by its word and that we'll leave the European Union on May 22."

Vote is an 'affront to democracy', says Corbyn

Update 2.20pm: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said today's vote was an "affront to democracy".

He said: "The Government has run down the clock in an attempt to blackmail MPs at every turn.

"The country is in chaos and responsibility for this chaos is the Government's, and the Government's alone...

Today's vote - third time lucky the Prime Minister hopes - is an affront to democracy and an affront to this country.

As Jeremy Corbyn addressed the Commons, Nadine Dorries tweeted that the Conservative benches were yet to fill because "there are a number of meetings taking place".

"It's going to the wire," she said.

Former British Brexit secretary Raab swings behind May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement

Update 1.25pm: Former British Brexit secretary Dominic Raab has declared he will back Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement in a crunch Commons vote on the day the UK was scheduled to leave the European Union.

Mr Raab is the latest in a string of prominent rebels against the British Prime Minister’s plan who have set aside their previous opposition in the hope of ensuring the UK leaves the EU on May 22.

But it remained unclear whether the reluctant support of hardline Brexiteers such as Mr Raab, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Iain Duncan Smith will be sufficient to secure victory for Mrs May.

A clutch of Leave-backing Conservatives including former Cabinet ministers Owen Paterson and John Redwood and European Research Group vice-chairman Steve Baker made clear they will continue to oppose the agreement reached with the remaining 27 EU states in November.

And DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said the party’s 10 MPs will vote against the agreement because it “betrays the wishes of the vast majority of people who voted to leave”.

Mr Wilson told MPs that passing the deal would make it “impossible to find a way of securing the kind of assurances required to make sure the United Kingdom is not broken up.”

With Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also ordering his party to vote against, Mrs May will need substantial numbers of Labour rebels to get her deal over the line.

In an apparent bid to woo wavering Labour MPs, British Attorney General Geoffrey Cox told the Commons that the Government would have backed an amendment from the party’s Gareth Snell.

The Stoke Central MP’s amendment, giving Parliament the right to set the negotiating mandate for talks on future relations with the EU, was not selected for debate by Speaker John Bercow.

In a special Friday sitting of the Commons, MPs were debating the legally binding treaty segment of Theresa May's Brexit deal, but not the accompanying Political Declaration setting out plans for the future EU/UK relationship.

British Attorney General Geoffrey Cox speaks in the House of Commons (PA)
British Attorney General Geoffrey Cox speaks in the House of Commons (PA)

Mrs May's decision to split the two parts of the package means it does not qualify as a third attempt to pass a “meaningful vote” on the Government’s Brexit deal.

Under the terms of an agreement with Brussels, a positive vote would qualify the UK for an automatic delay to May 22 of the formal date of Brexit.

Defeat would give the UK until April 12 to ask Brussels for a further extension to Brexit negotiations – which would require it to take part in May’s elections to the European Parliament – or leave the EU without a deal.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas confirmed that the agreement on its own was “necessary and sufficient” to deliver an orderly Brexit.

But he told a Brussels press conference that the deal must also be ratified by Parliament, something which Brexit legislation makes clear can only happen after the Political Declaration has been approved by MPs.

Announcing his decision to back Mrs May in Friday’s vote, Mr Raab told the House of Commons: “I cannot countenance an even longer extension and I cannot countenance holding European elections in May.”

Mr Johnson said he remained “intensely critical” of the deal, which he formerly said would make the UK a “vassal state”.

But he added: “I have come to the sad conclusion that neither this Government nor this Parliament is willing to leave with no deal. We therefore run the risk of being forced to accept an even worse version of Brexit or losing Brexit altogether.

“It is very painful to vote for this deal. But I hope we can now work together to remedy its defects, avoid the backstop trap and strive to deliver the Brexit people voted for.”

ERG members Lucy Allan and Daniel Kawczynski and former chief whip Mark Harper announced that they too would back the agreement after voting against it when it was defeated by a margin of 230 in January and 149 in March.

But Mr Paterson wrote in The Daily Telegraph that to avoid “catastrophic damage” to their party, Tory MPs must “stand up for the 17.4 million people who voted Leave, firmly resolved to deliver Brexit in full on April 12”.

In a graphic illustration of apparent despair within the Government at Mrs May’s chances, BBC Newsnight political editor Nicholas Watt said that, when he asked one Cabinet minister why the British PM had called Friday’s vote, he received the reply: “F*** knows, I’m past caring, it’s like the living dead in here.”

The vote comes on the day that pro-Brexit protesters – including a group which has taken part in a two-week march from Sunderland – are set to gather outside Parliament to mark the date when the UK was due to leave the EU.

Brexit supporters who have taken part in a march from Sunderland are due to arrive at Parliament Square (Owen Humphreys/PA)
Brexit supporters who have taken part in a march from Sunderland are due to arrive at Parliament Square (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Opening debate in the Commons, Mr Cox urged MPs to take “a single, decisive step today to afford certainty to the millions of people around this country awaiting it” and guarantee a short delay to Brexit to May 22.

“What we have before us today is the legal right to extend,” he said. “No other extension is guaranteed. Every other extension would require European parliamentary elections.

“We therefore are at an important crossroads for the purposes of this nation’s future and its history and I urge all members of this House to embrace this opportunity now.”

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer insisted Labour will not back the agreement in the vote expected at around 2.30pm.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Not only is uncoupling the Political Declaration making Brexit more blind because you don’t know where you are going, now the Prime Minister has said she is stepping down.

“So the Political Declaration, the future relationship, is going now to be determined in a Tory leadership exercise. Even if this Prime Minister gave us assurances about what she’s going to do in the future, they don’t mean anything any more.”

- Press Association

Boris Johnson will vote for May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement

Update 11am: Brexit figurehead Boris Johnson has declared he will vote for Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement in a special sitting of the House of Commons on the day the UK was scheduled to leave the European Union.

Mr Johnson said he had taken the “painful” decision to back a deal he once claimed would leave the UK as a “vassal state” because defeat for the Britsh Prime Minister would risk “an even worse version of Brexit or losing Brexit altogether”.

The move boosts Mrs May’s chances of securing a majority in the Commons for the Withdrawal Agreement which she struck with the remaining 27 EU states last November.

But she still faces an uphill struggle as key Government allies the DUP joined UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in saying they would vote against the move.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will meet the French President Emmanuel Macron as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel next week to discuss Brexit.

In a special sitting of the Commons, MPs are debating the legally binding treaty segment of Mrs May's Brexit deal, but not the accompanying Political Declaration setting out plans for the future EU/UK relationship.

Mrs May's decision to split the two parts of the package means it is not a third attempt to pass a “meaningful vote” on the Government’s Brexit deal and complies with rules laid down by Commons Speaker John Bercow.

Under the terms of an agreement with Brussels, if passed by MPs on Friday the vote would qualify the UK to be granted an automatic delay to May 22 of the formal date of Brexit.

There were signs that Mrs May’s gambit has succeeded in winning over some of the Conservative rebels who voted against her deal in “meaningful votes” when it went down to defeat by a margin of 230 in January and 149 in March.

UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives at the Houses of Parliament for the key vote (Victoria Jones/PA)
UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives at the Houses of Parliament for the key vote (Victoria Jones/PA)

Former chief whip Mark Harper and European Research Group members Lucy Allan and Daniel Kawczynski were among Eurosceptic backbenchers announcing they would vote with the Government. ERG chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg said he would “reluctantly” back it, despite previously saying he would vote with the DUP.

And Mr Johnson wrote on Twitter: “I have been and remain intensely critical of the deal. But we have a choice to make now, and that means choosing between options that actually exist.

“I have come to the sad conclusion that neither this Government nor this Parliament is willing to leave with no deal. We therefore run the risk of being forced to accept an even worse version of Brexit or losing Brexit altogether.

“A bad deal that we have a chance to improve in the next stage of negotiations must be better than those alternatives.

“It is very painful to vote for this deal. But I hope we can now work together to remedy its defects, avoid the backstop trap and strive to deliver the Brexit people voted for.”

- Press Association

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