Brexit delay on the way after MPs back Theresa May's postponement plan

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MPs have given the green light for Brexit to be delayed beyond March 29, but the divisions at the heart of Theresa May’s government were once again laid bare.


The Commons voted 413 to 202 in favour of asking the EU to postpone the Brexit date - either by three months if MPs back a deal by next Wednesday or a longer period if no agreement can be reached.

All 27 EU countries will need to agree to the delay, and yesterday European Council President Donald Tusk spoke out in favour of a “long extension” - possibly years - in order to renegotiate a Brexit deal.

May gave her MPs a free vote on the delay plan, but the sight of eight cabinet ministers, including international trade secretary Liam Fox, leader of the commons Andrea Leadsom and chief secretary to the treasury Liz Truss, all voting against the plan highlighted the splits at the very top of government.

In a bizarre twist, Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay voted against the motion, despite wrapping up the debate in favour of the plan on behalf of the government.


With almost two-thirds of her own party rejecting the delay, May only got the motion through thanks to votes from Labour.

The government is now set to bring its Brexit deal back before MPs for a third time - most likely Tuesday or Wednesday next week - in an attempt to reach an agreement before May travels to an EU summit on Thursday.

If MPs do not back the deal, May will have to persuade EU leaders that a longer extension will help facilitate a breakthrough, with French president Emmanuel Macron warning last month: “We would in no way accept an extension without a clear view on the objective pursued.

“As our negotiator Michel Barnier said, we don’t need more time, we need decisions.”

The delay received a lukewarm welcome from City figures. Miles Celic, CEO of TheCityUK, said the delay must lead to a breakthrough.

“This cannot be just a hollow postponement - it must deliver a deal. A constructive and practical way forward must be found in the coming days. The longer uncertainty persists, the more firms will move people, assets and investment out of the UK and this will undermine European competitiveness,” he warned.

Before MPs voted on the delay, the European Research Group of Brexit-backing Tories held a meeting to discuss the recent turn of events.

One MP warned after the meeting that there are around 17 Tories who would oppose May’s deal no matter what.

"They would rather go down in a blaze of glory than get a resolution,” said the MP.

Conor Burns, a former aide to Boris Johnson and opposer of May’s deal, said he was “looking for a reason to support” the plan, adding: “Clearly it's better to leave in an orderly way on time, than chaos."

However, Tory grandee Sir Christopher Chope told Parliament he would “seriously consider” voting against his own government if Labour tabled a vote of no confidence, and called on May to step down.

“If we were to change the Prime Minister now, there would be a case for a short extension to article 50, but in no other circumstances,” he said.

Other ERG members were less animated, with one saying the majority of their group are "pushing back quite strongly" against any effort to force May out.