Brexit update: a dramatic week in Parliament

15 March 2019

Brexit

After MPs rejected Theresa May's Brexit deal this week and voted for an extension of Article 50, CLA Director of External Affairs Tom Bartošák-Harlow takes a look at what this actually means.

Tom Bartosak-Harlow

What a week! I’ll try and sum it up in a sentence or two.

The UK Parliament has voted to reject the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement with the EU, against a no deal Brexit (ever) and for an extension of Article 50. However, theoretically at least, we could still leave without a deal on 29 March. Clear as mud? I’ll try to explain.

Following the rejection of her withdrawal agreement by 149 votes (down from 230 last time) the Prime Minister held a vote on whether the UK should leave on 29 March without a deal. However, some MPs wanted to make the vote about whether the UK should leave without a deal at any time, not just at the end of the month. These MPs successfully amended the statement (often called a motion) on no deal that the House of Commons was voting on to this effect. Surprisingly, some Cabinet ministers then refused to back the Prime Minister in the final vote (she tried to reject this new statement).

In a sign of how weak the PM currently is she has not sacked those who disobeyed her, meaning it is going to be almost impossible for her to persuade many of her MPs to vote the way she wants in the future. They will just make up their own minds as the consequences of opposing the PM (normally this would mean being sacked from your job) have gone.

The next vote, on whether to extend Article 50, stated that before the Prime Minister goes to Brussels to ask for an extension, MPs need to vote on her withdrawal agreement for a third time. Only after they have done this, which is likely to be early next week, will she go and ask for an extension. A long extension if they reject the deal and a short extension to the end of June if they approve it. This is entirely designed to try and get those Conservative MPs who rejected the deal this week but who want to leave the EU to back it next week. Cynical, politics or perhaps a bit of both? The key thing here is without the EU’s agreement to an extension we leave on 29 March regardless of the progress of a deal, although an extension with conditions attached is likely to be granted.

There’s so much more I could say on splits within the group of Conservatives led by Jacob Rees Mogg or the likelihood of a general election, and there will assuredly be further updates next week. We are truly in unprecedented times.

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