30 Mar 2019

Brexit: Theresa May's deal rejected a third time

6:52 am on 30 March 2019

British MPs have rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's EU withdrawal agreement a third time, on the day the UK had originally been due to leave the EU.

Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow speaks in the House of Commons on the Government's Withdrawal Agreement Bill, rejected by MPs for a third time.

Photo: AFP PHOTO /Mark DUFFY/ UK Parliament

As thousands of Leave supporters gathered outside Parliament to protest against the delay to Brexit, bringing traffic to a standstill, the government's deal was defeated 286 votes for, to 344 against: a margin of 58.

The Democratic Unionist Party and the Labour Party voted against the deal, along with 34 Conservative rebels. Five Labour MPs voted for the agreement.

A number of high-profile Tory Brexiteers, including Dominic Raab and Iain Duncan Smith, did vote for the agreement, but it was not enough to prevent another damaging defeat for Mrs May who had offered to stand down to persuade her critics to back the deal.

It means the UK has missed an EU deadline to delay Brexit to 22 May and leave with a deal.

The PM's EU deal also includes a political declaration on future relations between the UK and the EU, and has previously been rejected by larger margins.

However, the government chose to hold a vote on the withdrawal agreement only to secure a short delay to Brexit and avoid the UK taking part in European elections.

Responding to the vote, European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: "In view of the rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement by the House of Commons, I have decided to call a European Council on 10 April."

European Council President Donald Tusk

European Council President Donald Tusk. The council has said it is fully prepared for a no-deal Brexit on 12 April. Photo: AP / Francisco Seco

In a statement, the European Commission said the UK would have to "indicate a way forward" by 12 April "for consideration by the European Council".

"A 'no-deal' scenario on 12 April is now a likely scenario. The EU has been preparing for this since December 2017 and is now fully prepared for a 'no-deal' scenario at midnight on 12 April. The EU will remain united," the statement said.

"The benefits of the withdrawal agreement, including a transition period, will in no circumstances be replicated in a 'no-deal' scenario. Sectoral mini-deals are not an option."

MPs are holding more votes on alternative plans on Monday and Wednesday next week. If one of the options receives a majority, the government could use it as a basis for negotiating changes to the political declaration.

What happens next?

  • Monday, 1 April: MPs hold another set of votes on various Brexit options to see if they can agree on a way forward
  • Wednesday, 3 April: Potentially another round of so-called "indicative votes"
  • Wednesday, 10 April: Emergency summit of EU leaders to consider any UK request for further extension
  • Friday, 12 April: Brexit day, if UK does not seek/EU does not grant further delay
  • 23-26 May: European Parliamentary elections

Mrs May said the UK would have to find "an alternative way forward", which was "almost certain" to involve holding European elections. She now has until 12 April to seek a longer extension to the negotiation process to avoid a no-deal Brexit on that date.

The prime minister said the outcome was "a matter of profound regret", adding that "I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House".

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May listen as opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks in the House of Commons in London on March 25, 2019 after May outlined the next steps that parliament will take in the Brexit process.

Prime Minister Theresa May offered to resign as head of her party if her deal was passed in an effort to boost support for it. Photo: AFP / PRU

Downing Street said it was still not an "inevitability" that the UK would have to take part in elections to the European Parliament in May, and a source at No. 10 indicated the prime minister would continue to seek support in the Commons for her deal.

"Clearly it was not the result we wanted. But, that said, we have had a number of senior Conservative colleagues who have felt able to vote with the government today. They have done so in higher numbers than previously," the source said.

Downing Street said Mrs May would continue to talk to the Democratic Unionist Party about more reassurances over the Irish backstop, which it says risks splitting Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom, but the DUP's leader at Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said he would prefer to stay in the EU.

"I would stay in the European Union and remain, rather than risk Northern Ireland's position. That's how strongly I feel about the Union."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said an alternative had to be found.

"The House has been clear, this deal now has to change," he said. "And if the prime minister can't accept that, then she must go - not at an indeterminate date in the future but now ... so that we can decide the future of this country through a general election."

Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home in London on February 19, 2019. - Seven MPs quit Britain's main opposition Labour Party on Monday. (Photo by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: AFP

European Research Group of Brexiteer Conservatives deputy chair Steve Baker, who was one of the 34 conservatives who voted against the deal, said it was time for Mrs May to quit.

"This must be the final defeat for Theresa May's deal. It's finished. And we must move on."


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