British lawmakers overwhelmingly vote in favor of delaying Brexit

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02:32 mins.

UK MPs vote for Brexit delay

With just 15 days to go until the UK is due to leave the EU, British lawmakers have voted to delay Brexit by at least three months. EU leaders will have the final say, with many demanding a clear reason from London.

Lawmakers in the House of Commons overwhelmingly backed a government motion on Thursday to ask for a three-month delay for Britain's departure from the European Union, which is currently scheduled for March 29.

The move has also paved the way for a third vote on Prime Minister Theresa May's divorce deal with the European Union, which could take place early next week.

Thursday's vote came at the end of a week of defeats for May, which saw her Brexit deal voted down for a second time on Tuesday, as well as a vote on Wednesday which saw lawmakers reject a no-deal Brexit under any circumstances.

What you need to know

  • With a vote of 412 to 202, lawmakers overwhelmingly backed the government's motion to ask the EU to push the divorce date back to June 30.
  • The government's motion states that it would ask for the three-month delay — but on the condition that Parliament approves May's withdrawal agreement with the EU.
  • Lawmakers also overwhelmingly voted down the prospect of a second referendum — with only 85 MPs backing the amendment, while 334 voted against it.
  • An amendment that would have given lawmakers more control over the Brexit process narrowly lost, with 312 voting in favor and 314 against.
  • An amendment to block May from bringing her divorce deal back for a third vote was withdrawn.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

June 2016: 'The will of the British people'

After a shrill referendum campaign, nearly 52 percent of British voters opted to leave the EU on June 24. Polls had shown a close race before the vote with a slight lead for those favoring remaining in the EU. Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had campaigned for Britain to stay, acknowledged the "will of the British people" and resigned the following morning.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

July 2016: 'Brexit means Brexit'

Former Home Secretary Theresa May replaced David Cameron as prime minister on July 11 and promised the country that "Brexit means Brexit." May had quietly supported the Remain campaign before the referendum. She did not initially say when her government would trigger Article 50 of the EU treaty to start the two-year talks leading to Britain's formal exit.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

March 2017: 'We already miss you'

May eventually signed a diplomatic letter over six months later on March 29, 2017 to trigger Article 50. Hours later, Britain's ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow, handed the note to European Council President Donald Tusk. Britain's exit was officially set for March 29, 2019. Tusk ended his brief statement on the decision with: "We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye."

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

June 2017: And they're off!

British Brexit Secretary David Davis and the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, kicked off talks in Brussels on June 19. The first round ended with Britain reluctantly agreeing to follow the EU's timeline for the rest of the negotiations. The timeline split talks into two phases. The first would settle the terms of Britain's exit, and the second the terms of the EU-UK relationship post-Brexit.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

July-October 2017: Money, rights and Ireland

The second round of talks in mid-July began with an unflattering photo of a seemingly unprepared British team. It and subsequent rounds ended with little progress on three phase one issues: How much Britain still needed to pay into the EU budget after it leaves, the post-Brexit rights of EU and British citizens and whether Britain could keep an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

December 2017: Go-ahead for phase 2

Leaders of the remaining 27 EU members formally agreed that "sufficient progress" had been made to move on to phase two issues: the post-Brexit transition period and the future UK-EU trading relationship. While Prime Minister Theresa May expressed her delight at the decision, European Council President Tusk ominously warned that the second stage of talks would be "dramatically difficult."

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

July 2018: Johnson, Davis resign

British ministers appeared to back a Brexit plan at May's Chequers residence on July 6. The proposal would have kept Britain in a "combined customs territory" with the EU and signed up to a "common rulebook" on all goods. That went too far for British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis, who resigned a few days later. May replaced them with Jeremy Hunt and Dominic Raab.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

September 2018: No cherries for Britain

May's Chequers proposal did not go down well with EU leaders, who told her at a summit in Salzburg in late September that it was unacceptable. EU Council President Tusk trolled May on Instagram, captioning a picture of himself and May looking at cakes with the line: "A piece of cake perhaps? Sorry, no cherries." The gag echoed previous EU accusations of British cherry-picking.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

November 2018: Breakthrough in Brussels

EU leaders endorsed a 585-page draft divorce deal and political declaration on post-Brexit ties in late November. The draft had been widely condemned by pro- and anti-Brexit lawmakers in the British Parliament only weeks earlier. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned along with several other ministers, and dozens of Conservative Party members tried to trigger a no-confidence vote in May.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

December 2018: May survives rebellion

In the face of unrelenting opposition, May postponed a parliamentary vote on the deal on December 10. The next day, she met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to seek reassurances that would, she hoped, be enough to convince skeptical lawmakers to back the deal. But while she was away, hard-line Conservative lawmakers triggered a no-confidence vote. May won the vote a day later.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

January 2019: Agreement voted down

The UK Parliament voted 432 to 202 against May's Brexit deal on January 16. In response to the result, European Council President Donald Tusk suggested the only solution was for the UK to stay in the EU. Meanwhile, Britain's Labour Party called for a no-confidence vote in the prime minister, her second leadership challenge in as many months.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

March 2019: Second defeat for May's deal

May tried to get legal changes to the deal's so-called Irish backstop in the weeks that followed. She eventually got assurances that the UK could suspend the backstop under certain circumstances. But on March 12, Parliament voted against the revised Brexit deal by 391 to 242. EU leaders warned the vote increased the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit. Two days later, MPs voted to delay Brexit.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

March 2019: Extension after second defeat

Following the second defeat of May's divorce deal, the European Council met in Brussels on March 21 to decide what to do next. EU leaders gave May two options: delay Brexit until May 22 if MPs vote for the withdrawal deal or delay it until April 12 if they vote against the deal. If the deal were to fail again in Parliament, May could ask for a long extension.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

March 2019: Brexit deal rejected a third time

On March 29, the day that the UK was supposed to leave the EU, British lawmakers voted for a third time against May's deal — rejecting it this time with a vote of 344 to 286. Following the latest defeat, May approached the main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in an attempt to find a compromise, angering hardline Brexiteers in her own Conservative party.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

April 2019: Brexit delayed until Halloween

With the April 12 deadline looming after the third defeat of May's deal, EU leaders met again in Brussels to discuss a second delay. The only question was how long should it be? In the end, the UK and EU agreed to a "flexible" extension until October 31 — which can end sooner if the Brexit deal is approved. If the deal isn't ratified by May 22, the UK would have to take part in European elections.

What happens next

The vote means May's government will ask the EU for a one-off extension to Article 50, extending the divorce date until June 30. 

But there is one condition: May will only ask for the short-term extension if lawmakers approve the withdrawal agreement she negotiated with the EU. British lawmakers have already rejected May's divorce deal in two prior votes by record margins.

Should MPs vote to support the deal by March 20, May will request the short-term extension when she heads to an EU leaders summit in Brussels, which is taking place on March 21 and 22.

If her deal is rejected a third time, the prime minister will still try to secure a short-term delay, although she will be heading to Brussels without a clear reason for the extension — something EU leaders have said is a must in order to secure a delay.

May has warned that the UK could face a much longer Brexit delay if her deal is not approved, and that the UK would have to hold European Parliament elections in May if an extension goes beyond June.

Read more: Brexit — Is the EU willing to grant an Article 50 extension?

Now live
02:38 mins.
DW News | 13.03.2019

'Hard Brexit is closer than ever'

Where does the EU stand?

Although British lawmakers voted to support extending the Brexit deadline past March 29, it's not certain the EU will grant it.

EU leaders have expressed frustration at the political turbulence taking place in London, saying they would grant an extension but would need a concrete reason from the UK for doing so.

Shortly following the vote on Thursday, a European Commission spokesperson emphasized that any extension would require "unanimous approval" from the leaders of the remaining 27 member states.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's Brexit coordinator, said British lawmakers need to make clear what they want and that the EU should push the UK to move Brexit forward.

"We have to increase the pressure," Verhofstadt told German broadcaster ZDF. "How many votes have there been, and every time it’s a negative majority, a majority against something. The time has come where we must see a broad majority that goes beyond the party lines."

The decision also throws more uncertainly onto Britain's trade relationship with the EU. In light of the vote, the head of Germany's main association of chambers of commerce and industries, DIHK, told the press that European businesses have been left with no idea what scenario to be ready for and when.

"The companies no longer have any idea what they should be preparing for," Martin Wansleben told the publisher Funke Mediengruppe.

"In addition to uncertainty about what is going to happen, now there's uncertainty about when it will happen."

Read more: Brexit deal vote — European Union closes ranks in response

Trump 'surprised at how badly' Brexit has been going

US President Donald Trump weighed in on the upheaval surrounding the UK's departure from the EU on Thursday, saying he is "surprised at how badly" the negotiations have been going and that the Brexit debate is "tearing the country apart."

He also criticized May's handling of the negotiations, saying she did not heed his advice.

"She didn't listen to that, and that's fine. I mean ... she's got to do what she's got to do. But I think it could have been negotiated in a different manner, frankly," Trump told reporters at the White House ahead of a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

Trump added that he still hopes to secure a "large scale" trade agreement with the UK.

rs, es/cmk (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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