Theresa May forced to delay Brexit after historic win for MPs
Backbench MPs have passed historic legislation to delay article 50, forcing the government to set out its timetable for the length of the Brexit delay in order to prevent the UK exiting the EU with no deal.
In extraordinary circumstances, the bill devised by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and the Conservative Oliver Letwin passed its final stages in the House of Lords on Monday night and was approved by the Commons that evening.
The swift passage of the bill, which took just three sitting days to complete, was made possible by the success of an unprecedented amendment which allowed MPs to seize control of parliamentary business on particular days, meaning the government could not block its progress.
The EU Withdrawal (No 5) Act received royal assent just after 11pm on Monday night, forcing the prime minister to extend the article 50 process and to set out the length of the extension in the Commons on Tuesday.
The Commons leader, Andrea Leadsom, said the government would no longer block the progress of the bill after it was passed by the Lords on Monday evening, but she called it a “huge dog’s dinner” and criticised how little time for debate the bill had been given.
The Commons passed the final stage of the bill by 392 votes to 85 – a majority of 307.
May has already pledged to seek an extension until 30 June but the government opposed the legislation, fearing the precedent it would set for backbenchers to be able to pass bills.
Under the terms of the new act, the government must table a motion to agree the length of extension the prime minister will seek from the EU.
On Monday night, in the wake of the bill’s approval, the government tabled its motion setting out May’s intention to seek an extension until 30 June. That is set to be debated – and potentially amended – in the Commons on Tuesday.
May will meet EU leaders for an emergency summit in Brussels on Wednesday night to make the request, which may be rejected in favour of a longer, more flexible extension which would require the UK to take part in European parliament elections.
Cooper said the bill would “prevent a chaotic no deal in four days’ time, hitting jobs, manufacturing, medicine supplies, policing and security.” She said parliament had “responded to the gravity and urgency of the situation by passing the legislation in time”.
She said the swift passage of the bill had been made possible by unprecedented circumstances. “That is why colleagues from all sides have worked so quickly together, including with government ministers to ensure a workable, common-sense safeguard could be put in place.
“We are in this difficult situation because the prime minister left things until so late in the day and we should be honest that none of this is ideal. The bill helps avoid the worst outcome on Friday, but the prime minister still needs to build consensus around a workable way forward.”