LONDON: Britain’s parliament yesterday voted to ask the European Union to delay Brexit until at least June and head off a potentially calamitous end to their 46-year partnership in two weeks.
MPs, however, also voted against a proposal to hold a second referendum during the delay, dealing a blow to the hopes of pro-EU campaigners.
Britain is barrelling towards the March 29 Brexit deadline with no approved EU withdrawal agreement and a prime minister who appears to have lost control over her bickering cabinet.
A sense of chaos filled the House of Commons this week as legislators held a series of votes on ideas about what they could do next. MPs have twice rejected the deal struck by Prime Minister Theresa May with the other 27 EU nations – in January and on Tuesday.
They voted on Wednesday not to leave without an agreement but without any firm roadmap on the way forward three years after Brexit was launched in a bitterly divisive referendum.
The plan they all finally agreed on – after turning down four other proposals – was submitted by May herself: to ask EU leaders to postpone Brexit. The motion also included a proposal to hold a third vote early next week on May’s twice-rejected deal.
It passed by a 412-202 margin, providing some welcome respite to the prime minister.
May had already lost her voice earlier in the week and did not appear to speak before the chamber after all the voting had wound down for the day.
European Union leaders must now unanimously approve the delay. They will meet at a summit in Brussels on March 21-22.
A “no deal” exit on March 29 is still theoretically possible if May’s deal is voted down for a third time next week and the EU 27 fail to approve an extension.
EU leaders have said they would consider any request from London but that regarding a delay they would need to know for how long – and what for.
May’s plan of action is to hold a third vote on her agreement with Brussels by Wednesday.
If it were approved, she would then ask Brussels to delay the Brexit date until June 30 to allow the treaty to be ratified.
But she warned on Wednesday that if her deal were rejected next week, Brexit could be postponed for much longer.