MPs in the House of Commons voted 412 to 202 on Thursday in favour of a government motion proposing pushing the UK’s exit from the bloc beyond the scheduled date of March 29.
The motion said the government would seek a “one-off extension” until June 30 “for the purpose of passing the necessary EU exit legislation”, provided May’s widely maligned deal wins Parliament’s approval by Wednesday next week.
If May fails to win parliamentary approval for her deal by March 20, the Brexit delay could be extended beyond three months. British legislators have already overwhelmingly rejected her EU divorce deal twice.
Parliamentarians also voted on Thursday by a crushing majority of 334 to 84 against an amendment proposing a second referendum. Despite the main opposition Labour Party now backing a so-called “people’s vote”, most of its MPs abstained.
An amendment to hold indicative votes on the next steps in the Brexit process, which would have given MPs the opportunity to take control of Brexit, was also defeated by a mere two votes.
May will now be expected to request an extension to Article 50 – the exit clause in the EU’s constitution – from EU officials, who are required to sign off on any delay to a departure from the bloc.
EU lukewarm on prospect of delay
On Thursday, a spokesperson for the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, said any delay to Article 50 would require “the unanimous agreement of all 27 member states”, citing the 27 other countries which make up the EU, minus the UK.
EU leaders’ consideration will give “priority to the need to ensure the functioning of the EU institutions” as well as take into account “the reasons for and duration of a possible extension”, the spokesperson said.
The European Council is due to meet next on March 21-22.
The chair of next week’s EU summit, European Council President Donald Tusk, said in a tweet on Thursday he would appeal to the “EU27 to be open to a long extension” to Article 50 if the UK wanted to “rethink its Brexit strategy”.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s lead Brexit spokesman, said in a tweet there was “no reason at all” for the European Council to agree to a delay “unless there is a clear majority in the House of Commons for something precise”, however.
MPs voted on Wednesday to rule out a no-deal Brexit under any circumstances by 321 votes to 278.
The vote was not legally binding, however, and, therefore, does not rule out the possibility of the UK exiting the bloc without an agreement on the terms of its departure.
May’s Brexit deal defeated, again
It came a day after MPs voted 391 to 242 against May’s plan, on Tuesday, fewer than 24 hours after she claimed to have won meaningful concessions from Brussels over the deal’s contentious so-called “backstop” clause.
The result marked a second defeat within two months for the prime minister over her Brexit strategy after MPs overwhelmingly rejected the proposed withdrawal agreement by a margin of 230 in January.
Leader of the main opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn said after the vote on Tuesday that May’s plan for leaving the EU was “dead” and called on the government to adopt his proposals for an alternative departure from the bloc.
On Thursday, Corbyn said he believes that parliamentary support can be found for his opposition party’s approach to Brexit, which favours continuing close ties with Europe.
He also said the Labour Party “reiterates” its support for a possible second referendum on Britain’s EU membership as a “realistic” way to break the ongoing political deadlock.
Analysts said events on Thursday demonstrated the UK was gripped by a “stalemate both in parliament and in government”.
“What was noticeable about the [Article 50 extension] vote is that 188 conservative MPs opposed requesting an extension … that’s nearly two-thirds of the [Conservative] party who oppose May’s outline for what’s going to happen next,” Maddy Thimont-Jack, a researcher at the Institute for government in London, told Al Jazeera.
The EU, for its part, has repeatedly said no other terms of withdrawal are available to the UK other than the deal brokered with May during months of fractious back-and-forth negotiations.
Nearly 52 percent of Britons – more than 17 million people – voted in favour of quitting the EU during a June 2016 referendum.
Additional reporting by Ylenia Gostoli