MPs have voted to extend Brexit beyond 29 March by backing a government motion forced on Theresa May by the Commons.
The motion, which May was forced to agree to if her own Brexit plan was defeated again, as it was on Tuesday, decrees that the government will seek agreement with the EU for an extension to article 50 beyond that date. It was passed by 413 votes to 202.
The motion says that if a Brexit plan is agreed by 20 March then this would be a brief, technical extension until 30 June – if not, it says, it would probably involve a longer period, and the UK taking part in upcoming European elections.
Earlier, MPs narrowly passed up a chance to seize control of the Brexit process through a series of indicative votes in the Commons next week, also resoundingly rejecting the idea of a second referendum in the first time they have been asked to vote on the issue.
On a dramatic third consecutive day of Brexit votes, centred on a government motion on whether the departure deadline should be extended, MPs rejected a cross-party amendment seeking to make the Commons central to the process by 312 votes to 314.
Tabled by Labour MPs Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper along with the Conservative former minister Oliver Letwin, this called for a way to “enable the House of Commons to find a way forward that can command majority support” after Theresa May’s Brexit plan was rejected for a second time on Tuesday.
The amendment said that next Wednesday the usual standing order for government business would not apply, with precedence given instead to a motion from 25 MPs about Brexit – which would involve a series of indicative votes by MPs to see if any plan could command a majority.
In a complex series of votes, an amendment to the Benn amendment tabled by Labour’s Lucy Powell to add a time limit of the end of June for any delay to Brexit, was first defeated by 314 votes to 311. The main amendment was then lost.
Immediately beforehand another amendment to the main government motion saw a large defeat for the idea of a second Brexit referendum – something that became inevitable after Labour ordered its MPs to abstain.
The amendment, tabled by former Tory Sarah Wollaston, now of the Independent Group, and signed by around 30 MPs, was voted down by 85 votes to 334.
Supporters of the so-called people’s vote were keen in advance to downplay the significance of the vote given Labour’s abstention, and to insist the idea could be resurrected if the Brexit process becomes further deadlocked.
Labour abstained because party policy is to push for its own Brexit plan first, and only support a second referendum if this does not happen.
Labour MPs who publicly back a second referendum released a joint letter explaining they had abstained as they felt it was not their best chance of victory.