1. ITV Report

MPs vote to request Article 50 extension and delay Brexit

MPs have voted to delay Brexit beyond the scheduled date of March 29 amid dramatic scenes in the House of Commons.

Parliamentarians backed putting off the UK's departure date from the European Union by 412 to 202 on Thursday.

An extension is not guaranteed automatically, as any such move needs the unanimous approval of all 27 EU states.

If an extension is granted, the UK will not be leaving the EU on March 29.

Only a refusal by the leaders of the 27 remaining EU states to grant an extension, at a Brussels summit next week, could now preserve March 29 as Brexit day.

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Theresa May has made clear she will bring her Withdrawal Agreement back for a third meaningful vote by March 20.

If she succeeds, the prime minister will go to Brussels next Thursday to request a short delay to a date no later than June 30, to give herself time to pass legislative changes necessarily for a smooth and orderly Brexit.

But if her deal is rejected for a third time, she believes any extension would have to be far longer and would involve the UK taking part in European Parliament elections in May.

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On Wednesday, MPs voted to take no-deal Brexit off the table entirely.

More than half of Tory MPs - including seven Cabinet ministers - voted against the government motion to delay Brexit on Thursday.

These included:

  • Stephen Barclay (Brexit Secretary)
  • Julian Smith (Chief Whip)
  • Gavin Williamson (Defence Secretary)
  • Liam Fox (International Trade Secretary)
  • Andrea Leadsom (Leader of the Commons)
  • Chris Grayling (Transport Secretary)
  • Penny Mordaunt (International Development Secretary)
Theresa May's authority has been chipped away in recent days. Credit: PA

In the same sitting, MPs also rejected the prospect of a second referendum on Brexit.

Parliamentarians voted decisively against a second public vote by 334 to 85 - although many Remain MPs abstained.

The referendum amendment was tabled by the Independent Group of former Labour and Tory MPs, who quit their parties in part over Brexit differences.

But the decision to press the issue to a vote was opposed as premature by the People's Vote campaign, which said MPs should be focusing on the question of whether to seek a delay to Brexit.

Independent Group MP Anna Soubry described the defeat as a "betrayal" of Labour Party members and voters, as well as the British public.

But Remain MP Ben Bradshaw insisted it was a "meaningless" vote, saying the priority was an Article 50 extension and that another referendum vote would come "when we can win it".

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn reiterated his support for a People's Vote, describing it as a "realistic option to break the deadlock".

Which amendments were rejected?

  • Amendment H, seeking to extend Article 50 to stage a second Brexit referendum
  • Amendment I, seeking to allow the House of Commons to decide what kind of Brexit deal should be negotiated
  • Amendment E, a Labour call for a delay to Brexit "to provide parliamentary time for this House to find a majority for a different approach"
  • Amendment J (pulled), calling to cancel a third vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal

MPs also defeated an amendment by Hilary Benn to wrest power from Theresa May and give the Commons a greater say over what kind of Brexit deal should be negotiated.

That amendment was narrowly edged out 314 votes to 312.

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston said the defeat increased the chances of a no-deal Brexit.

  • Reaction from ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston

Shortly after the vote, the EU Commission's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted that a meeting with Romanian PM Viorica Dancila had been "calm and respectful of #UK parliamentary procedures".

"Determined to defend EU interests and to build an ambitious EU/UK future relation as soon as possible," he added

Health Secretary Matt Hancock insisted that it might still be possible for Brexit to happen on March 29 despite the Commons vote to seek an extension.

He told Sky News: "I still want to deliver the Prime Minister's deal by March 29, that is my preference.

"It is very difficult and tight to do that, but it is possible and tonight's votes confirm that."

Peston argued that it would be difficult for Mrs May's deal to pass, saying that many MPs considered little had changed.

  • ITV News Europe Editor James Mates explains Brussels' reaction to Article 50 extension and delayed Brexit

Downing Street sources denied that Mrs May had lost control of her Cabinet or her party, insisting that the results were a "natural consequence" of the prime minister's decision to offer a free vote on an issue where many hold strong views.

At a special political Cabinet meeting shortly before the votes, the prime minister is understood to have berated four ministers for defying the whip by abstaining the previous night when MPs voted to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

But Downing Street indicated that the four - Greg Clark, David Gauke, Amber Rudd and David Mundell - would not lose their jobs.

A number 10 source characterised the exchange as "productive, open and honest", adding that Cabinet "collectively agreed to redouble their resolve in working to deliver on the result of the referendum to leave the EU by securing support for a deal".