Delay: The inevitable outcome from this week’s Brexit votes

Parliament was presented with three key Brexit votes this week. The outcome of which sets the scene ahead of a meeting of EU leaders next week in Brussels. A delay to Brexit now seems inevitable.

MPs defeat Withdrawal Agreement in second ‘meaningful vote’

On Tuesday MPs voted on the Withdrawal Agreement for the second time and rejected it by a majority of 149 votes. The first attempt in January saw a historic defeat for the Government with a 230 vote majority against. This week’s defeat was still a significant loss for the Government. The Attorney General’s legal advice on the Northern Ireland Backstop concluded that the legal assurances given by the EU did not change the situation that the UK was at risk of remaining in the Backstop indefinitely. This assessment all but guaranteed the defeat.

MPs signal opposition to No Deal

A follow-up vote on whether MPs supported a No Deal Brexit was held on Wednesday. MPs voted against a No Deal but this was a non-binding vote and just an expression of will by Parliament. The legal default remained that the UK would leave the EU on 29 March with or without a deal.

Parliament backs an extension to Article 50

Yesterday MPs voted in favour of an extension to the Article 50 period. However, the Government will have a third attempt at passing the Withdrawal Agreement next week.

The Government has outlined that should the Withdrawal Agreement be approved next week, it would seek a short technical extension to Article 50 to allow time for the relevant legislation to go through Parliament. Should MPs again vote against the Withdrawal Agreement, the Government has indicated a longer extension would be likely to facilitate the process of reaching consensus across Parliament.

Under either scenario the Government does not intend to leave the EU on 29 March. An extension request will go to the European Council summit at the end of next week. An extension must be agreed unanimously by the EU27. It is expected EU leaders will approve an extension on the condition that the Government outlines how it intends to reach consensus.