The House of Commons, Britain’s lower legislative chamber, is voting again on whether to accept Theresa May’s slightly modified Brexit deal which it already rejected in January.
The vote comes 32 months after the British people voted to leave the European Union by a margin of over a million votes, the largest democratic exercise in British history. The decision was a major upset to the British political class, which all but totally supported keeping the UK inside the EU, and has since been working on Brexit negotiations at near-snail’s pace, running down the clock on finding an answer on how to leave the European Union until the very last days until the country is legally mandated to leave the Union.
UPDATE 1950 — What does all this mean?
The most significant thing we now know is that Members of Parliament will have the opportunity tomorrow to vote unwhipped — that is to say, without being compelled to vote one way or another by the Conservative party machine — on whether to take so-called no deal Brexit off the table.
Given the only deal anyone in a position of power is presently willing to admit is possible has now been ruled out, and the majority of Europhile MPs would do anything in their power to prevent the UK actually leaving the European Union properly, that will almost certainly pass.
In preparation for that vote the government will publish a raft of information on its planning for a no-deal Brexit tomorrow, including new proposed rules on tariffs and the Northern Irish border. This is unlikely to sway any minds in Parliament but will be interesting ammunition to those calling for Britain to strike out into the world without the EU.
The chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, an influential and respected individual who represents non-government Conservative members of Parliament has pointed out that the vote to delay Brexit really is a vote to frustrate Brexit, and hence for a Tory to do so would be a “clear breach” of the manifesto they were elected on. No doubt some will, anyway.
Graham Brady says it would be “a clear breach” of the Conservative manifesto for MPs to vote for delaying Brexit.
— Mark Wallace (@wallaceme) March 12, 2019
UPDATE 1940 — That statement
The Prime Minister said:
I profoundly regret the decision this house has taken tonight. I continue to believe that by far the best course of action is the United Kingdom leaves the European Union in an orderly fashion with a deal, and that the deal we’ve negotiated is the only and best deal available.
Two weeks ago I made a series of commitments from this dispatch box regarding the steps we would take in the event this house rejected the deal on offer. I stand by those commitments in full. Therefore tonight, we will table a motion for a debate tomorrow to test whether the house supports leaving the European Union without a deal on the e29th of March.
This is a matter of grave importance for the future of our country. Just like the referendum, there are strongly held and equally legitimate views on both sides. For that reason, I can confirm that this will be a free vote on this side of the house.
I have personally struggled with this choice… I am passionate about delivering the result of the referendum but I equally passionately believe that the best way to do that is to leave in an orderly way with a deal. And I still believe that there is a majority in the house for that court of action.
I’m conscious also of my duties as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of the potential damage to the union that leaving without a deal could do, when one part of our country is without devolved government. I can, therefore, confirm the motion will read: ‘This House Declines to Approve Leaving the European Union Without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework on the Future Relationship on the 29th March 2019, and notes that leaving without a deal remains the default in UK and EU law unless this house and the EU ratify an agreement.
…the government will tomorrow publish information on essential policies which would need to be put in place should we leave without a deal. These will cover our approach to tariffs, and the Northern Ireland border among other matters. If the House votes to leave without a deal on the 29th of March, it will be the policy of the government to implement that decision. If the House declines to approve leaving without a deal on the 29th of March, the government will bring forward a motion on Thursday on whether Parliament wants to seek an extension to article 50.
If the House votes for an extension, the government will seek to agree that extension with the EU, and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension.
But let me be clear. Voting against leaving without a deal and for an extension does not solve the problems we face. The EU will want to know what use we mean to make of such an extension, and this house will have to answer that question.
Does it wish to revoke article 50? Does it want to hold a second referendum? Or does it want to leave with a deal but not this deal? These are the unenviable choices, that thanks to the decision that this house made this evening, they are choices that now must be faced.
UPDATE 1930 — The Prime Minister Speaks
Prime Minister May said that she “profoundly regrets” the outcome of the vote, confirming that the government will table a motion for the debate tomorrow whether the house supports leaving the EU without a deal.
May added that that would be a free vote and she would not be whipping MPs to back leaving the EU in a clean break, reiterating she “passionately believes” the best way to leave the EU is with a deal and still believes there is a majority in the house to do so.
Leaving without a deal remains the legal default unless the House and EU ratify the agreement, May said. If the house votes to leave without a deal, the government will follow that vote. If it votes against, it will seek a vote on Thursday on extending Article 50, she explained. If Parliament backs an extension, Mrs May she would seek such an extension with the EU.
Mrs May ended by saying, “Let me be clear: voting against leaving without a deal and for an extension does not solve the problem we face. The EU will want to know what use we want to make of such an extension; and this house will have to answer that question. Does it wish to revoke article 50? Does it want to hold a second referendum? Or does it want to leave with a deal but not this deal? These are the unenviable choice that thanks to the decision that this house made this evening, they are choices that now must be faced.”
The fact tomorrow’s vote will be unwhipped means with almost perfect certainty that the House of Commons will vote to reject a no-deal Brexit. Given this is basically the only remaining negotiating position the British government has left — that it retains the right to walk away from the negotiating table if the European Union won’t be reasonable — this would effectively sign the death warrant of any future improvement in Britain’s departure settlement.
UPDATE 1915 — Theresa May’s Brexit deal defeated by 391 to 242 votes
As expected, the Brexit deal derided as a betrayal of Brexit by many has been defeated for a second time, likely by a coalition of anti-Brexit diehards from both sides of the house believing this is the best way to stop Britain leaving the EU, and pro-Brexit members of the ERG who see this as an opportunity to get a better Brexit.
Tonight’s vote was basically doomed since the Attorney General published his revised advice on Theresa May’s updated deal this morning. While the AG was clearly supportive of the Prime Minister in his writing and statement in the chamber, he concluded that there was not enough change to say the risk of Britain being trapped in a Brexit limbo had vanished.
While this has been anticipated, it does not make it any less of a major seismic event in British politics — it could not be less clear, very nearly, what will happen with Brexit and the British government now. Will Jeremy Corbyn call a vote of no confidence against May to try and force a general election?
As an aside, an interesting glimpse inside the building where the political sausage is made: potentially breaking Parliamentary conventions on taking photographs inside the chamber and the lobbies, SNP MP Hannah Bardell gave an indication of how packed the no lobby — where MPs go to vote against the government — was during the count.
— Hannah Bardell 🏴🏳️🌈 (@HannahB4LiviMP) March 12, 2019
UPDATE 1900 — Parliament Votes
The Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay has defended the government’s Brexit deal, to perhaps surprisingly animated cheering from the government benches and boos from the opposition. The Members of the British House of Commons are now filing into the division lobbies to be counted for the vote which will, likely, dictate the future of Brexit and possibly Theresa May’s leadership.
The original story continues below…
Broadcaster Sky News, citing their headcount of Members of Parliament who have made their intentions known, predicts that the government will lose by over 100 votes. While this is an improvement in fortunes for the Prime Minister who was defeated by 230 votes in January — the heaviest defeat of a Prime Minister in modern British political history — it is still well short of being enough to save May’s deal.
Theresa May has threatened that to oppose her deal would, rather than create space for a better deal, jeopardise Brexit itself. While the majority of Members of Parliament voted against the UK leaving the EU in the 2016 referendum, they are also aware that in many cases their electors are majority pro-leave, and hence their promises to execute the will of the electorate may be threatened by the Prime Minister’s claim.
Even Before Parliament Has Voted, EU Prepares to Delay Brexit by Another Year https://t.co/TpXxIpYUZ4
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) March 12, 2019
Among those rejecting that is key Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said Tuesday that May’s claim was merely a “phantom” meant to scare, and “…it is safe to vote against this deal again tonight and look to leaving on the 29th of March without a deal.”
While Parliament passing May’s deal Tuesday would lead Britain to a Brexit of sorts, it has been decried as a betrayal of the spirit of the Brexit vote, and a ‘Brexit in name only’ by critics. Brexit leader Nigel Farage has called it “the worst deal in history”, and said what she’s arranged came only after years of Brexit delays and betrayals.
What the government being defeated a second time on its Brexit deal will mean is not exactly clear, but there are several routes forward being discussed. Most immediate are the associated further votes in the coming days promised by Theresa May if her deal was defeated — one to rule out a no-deal Brexit, and the other to cancel the legal date for Brexit to extend negotiation time.
‘The Prime Minister Is Conning Us All’: Brexiteer Rejects May’s EU Concessions https://t.co/wkhmQaGqny
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) March 12, 2019
As MPs are expected to defeat May, they would almost certainly also vote against a so-called no deal — the option of actually unilaterally, fully leaving the European Union and all its associated bodies is one treated with horror by most MPs despite it being the most popular option for the British public — and then to suspend Brexit, too.
Westminster is also alive, once again, with discussion over the future of the Prime Minister as well. Labour may table a vote of no confidence in the government, but it is unclear whether even the hardest of Tory rebels would vote for a general election.
While Theresa May herself is theoretically safe from a leadership contest from her own party, as Conservative rules mean only one can take place every 12 months, she may also feel unable to lead the party further following tonight’s vote.
The United Kingdom is to due — in theory — leave the European Union in 17 days, on March 29th.