New setback for Theresa May as MPs force her to rule out no-deal Brexit

Written by Matt Foster on 4 April 2019 in News

Cooper and Letwin emergency bill passed by a single vote in the Commons, but further indicative votes ruled out

Conservative backbenchers - PA

MPs have backed a cross-party bid to force Theresa May to rule out a no-deal Brexit by a single vote.

In a knife-edge Commons decision, MPs finally voted 313-312 at third reading reading in favour of a bill that will compel the Prime Minister to ask the European Union to delay Brexit beyond the current deadline of 12 April.

The emergency law - spearheaded by senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper and Tory grandee Oliver Letwin - allows the PM to choose the length of any Brexit delay she may request from Brussels.

MPs will have legal force to change her plan as they debate and vote on any extension, effectively taking a major Brexit decision out of the hands of the UK Government.

The bill - which, in a highly unusual move, was rushed through all of its Commons stages in just six hours - was passed after May held "constructive" talks with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in a move that has infuriated her own backbenchers.

Urging MPs to get behind the bid, Cooper said: "I think it's really important for people to come together... because the challenges that we face from the threat of no-deal are very significant.

"Three years on from the referendum the biggest problem for all of us is that so little has been done to heal the national Brexit divide or to bring people together. And this is major constitutional change.

"And if there isn't that effort to bring people together then to be honest, whatever we conclude, either today, tomorrow, next week: it won't last. Because there won't have been that work to build the consensus."

But Brexiteers demanded to know how long any extension would be - and blasted "doom and gloom" predictions of the impact of a no-deal exit from the EU.

"They were all proved wrong," Conservative Eurosceptic John Baron said.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay meanwhile warned that the bill was being "passed in haste".

And he said: "It is constitutionally irregular and it also fails, frankly, to understand the decision-making process by which any discussion of an extension or agreement on an extension at the EU council will be reached."

In a sign of the deep divisions in parliament over Brexit, the Bill also scraped through at its earlier first reading by a single vote. It will still have to pass through the House of Lords on Thursday before becoming law.

May has already admitted she will have to request another extension to the Article 50 process past the current cut-off date of 12 April at next week's emergency European Council summit.

But she is still aiming for the UK will to leave by 22 May, meaning voters will not have to take part in the European Parliament elections due later that week.

Earlier on Wednesday night, MPs plans to hold a round of so-called 'indicative votes' on alternatives to May's Brexit deal were blocked by John Bercow following a dramatic Commons tie.

Labour MP Hilary Benn had proposed a motion which would have seen Parliament once again seize control of Commons business for the votes to take place on Monday.

But the vote on Benn's motion was tied 310 to 310, meaning the Speaker had the casting vote.

He told MPs: "In accordance with principle, and on the principle that important decisions should not be taken except by a majority, I cast my vote with the Noes."

That meant Benn's motion was defeated by 311 to 310.

It was the first time since 1993 that a Speaker has had to use his casting vote.

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