On another dramatic night in Westminster, the Commons divided by 412 votes to 202 – a majority of 210 – in favour of a government motion that said the Article 50 period should be extended after MPs rejected Ms May’s exit plan and also voted to rule out no deal.
The prime minister will now ask the EU to delay the planned 29 March exit date, and existing UK laws will be updated to reflect this. Any extension will need to be approved by all 27 EU member states.
The government has said that if a Brexit deal is agreed by MPs by 20 March, it will seek a delay until 30 June.
But if no withdrawal agreement is in place by that date, the extension is likely to be much longer – possibly up to two years.
No10 hopes the deadline will convince Eurosceptic Tory rebels to step into line, knowing that failure to back the prime minister’s plan is likely to lead to a lengthy delay to Brexit.
Before approving the government’s motion, the Commons narrowly rejected an alternative plan, proposed by a cross-party group of senior backbenchers, that called for the delay to Brexit to be used “to find a way forward that can command majority support”. The proposal would have seen a series of “indicative votes” held to establish what sort of Brexit deal MPs might support. In a bid to see off the amendment, ministers promised to hold a series of similar votes if Ms May’s deal is rejected again next week.
MPs also voted down an Independent Group amendment that would have triggered another referendum.
The government motion passed by MPs said the Commons “notes the resolutions of the House of 12 and 13 March, and accordingly agrees the government will seek to agree with the European Union an extension of the period specified in Article 50”.
Pressure will now be piled on Eurosceptic Tories, who have twice voted down Ms May’s exit plan, to finally back it in order to avoid a long delay to Brexit.
The prime minister had given Tory MPs a free vote on the Article 50 motion in order to avoid any of her divided cabinet ministers having to resign. That allowed several senior members of her government to vote her motion, including Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay, defence secretary Gavin Williamson and international development secretary Penny Morduant.
Ms May will now ask the EU for an extension to the Article 50 period, most likely at a summit in Brussels at the end of next week.
Before then, she is expected to hold a third vote on her withdrawal agreement in a last-gasp bid to persuade MPs to approve it. Whether or not they do so will determine the length of the extension she seeks.
Responding to the Commons vote, a spokesperson for the European Commission said: “We take note of tonight’s vote. A request for an extension of Article 50 requires the unanimous agreement of all 27 member states.
“It will be for the European Council to consider such a request, giving priority to the need to ensure that functioning of the EU institutions and taking into account the reasons for an duration of a possible extension.
“President Juncker is in constant contact with all leaders.”
The decision to delay Brexit came after MPs rejected Ms May’s deal on Tuesday for a second time, by a margin of 149.
On Wednesday, they also voted to take the option of a no-deal Brexit off the table.
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