Back the Brexit deal or face long delay, May's deputy warns MPs

Clay Curtis
March 16, 2019

On Thursday, eight members of the cabinet - including the Brexit secretary, Steve Barclay and leader of the house Andrea Leadsom - voted against Mrs May's ultimately successful motion to extend article 50.

However, MPs categorically rejected an amendment that called for a second Brexit referendum.

May has given those critics an ultimatum - ratify her deal by Wednesday or face a delay to Brexit way beyond June 30 that would open up the possibility that the entire departure from the European Union could ultimately be thwarted.

The Prime Minister apparently breaking her word by attempting to Article 50 - she will require the EU's agreement to do so - will leave many wondering whether they can trust her other promises; for example her vow to stand aside as party leader before the next general election, made in exchange for Tory MPs not backing her ouster in a recent vote of no confidence. The next day, they voted to reject a no-deal exit.

But Mr Verhofstadt tweeted afterwards: "Why EUCO (EU Commission) should allow an extension if the UK Gov and her majority in the House of Commons are not ready for a cross-party approach to break the current deadlock?"

He said he hoped the United Kingdom would "leave as soon as possible in an orderly fashion" if Parliament backs May's withdrawal agreement next week.

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His comments make it more likely that Conservative lawmakers will again vote against the deal today, making it impossible for the government to overturn the 230-vote defeat it suffered the first time it held a "meaningful vote" on it.

The government whipped its MPs to vote against all proposed amendments; while the Labour party announced before the vote that it would not formally back any amendment supporting a second referendum.

But the deal has remained deadlocked in parliament, chiefly by disagreement over the so-called Irish "backstop" - a measure to avoid barriers at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Speaking on a visit to Paris, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said "everyone would welcome" MPs approving the deal and Brexit being briefly pushed back to get the necessary legislation through. The official People's Vote campaign echoed Labour's reticence, saying in a statement: "We recognise there is a range of opinions on when to press the case for the public being given the final say, which means some of these MPs will vote for the Wollaston amendment, some may vote against, and some will abstain".

A possible scenario is the government seeking an extension to Brexit, and the European Union is likely to take a decision on March 21. In the event of an extension, the question is how long it will be.

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