British Parliament Votes to Delay Brexit

Remainer/anti-Brexit protesters outside of the Palace of Westminster, London, in December 2018 [Wikimedia Commons].

Remainer/anti-Brexit protesters outside of the Palace of Westminster, London, in December 2018 [Wikimedia Commons].

British MPs voted on March 14 by a margin of 413 to 202 for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to ask the EU to delay Brexit beyond the current March 29 deadline, according to BBC.

The vote reflects the overwhelming lack of consensus among MPs regard- ing how to leave the European Union. Major concerns persist about how Brexit will affect issues including trade, immigration, energy, and security.

Parliament’s decision, which forces May to seek a delay that she previously resisted, demonstrates that she faces a potential mutiny from her own lawmakers. Disagreements over the details of Brexit have been a constant source of frustration for the embattled prime minister. Parliament has now twice reject-ed her proposed Brexit deal, first in mid-January and most recently in a vote on March 12, the New York Times reports.

May had vowed to continue with Brexit proceedings with or without a deal that would guide the U.K.’s departure. However, MPs refuted her categorical position in a March 13 vote, passing a proposal that rejects a no-deal Brexit and stipulates that any exit from the EU must be accompanied by an agreement. Although the vote was non-binding, it further undermines May’s strategy by depriving her of significant leverage in further negotiations.

Not only did lawmakers overwhelmingly vote to delay EU departure, but many suspect that May has lost control of her party. Although a majority (61 percent) of Conservatives still voted against the Brexit delay, 112 of 310 Conservatives backed the vote against May, BBC reports. Ten other Conservatives did not vote and declined to oppose it, including several members of her cabinet.

In a separate vote, Parliament narrowly rejected legislation 314-312 that would have seized control of the Brexit process from Prime Minister May. While the vote was the strongest attempt yet to subordinate May, it still represents a small but valuable legislative victory for the prime minister.

Following the delayed vote, the Prime Minister will request a postponement on March 21 during meetings with European leaders in Brussels. A Brexit postponement would require all 27 member states to approve her request. According to the New York Times, many experts think that the EU will likely allow an extension for the exit process, but it is uncertain how long such an extension would last.

For now, May remains in power, but her position has been seriously weakened. It is still technically possible that the U.K. leaves the European Union on the March 29 deadline; however, the most recent vote has put the matter politically out of reach.

Now, the EU must decide whether it will allow an extension. If the British Parliament cannot reach a Brexit agreement before May’s meetings, then she might be forced to request a longer extension lasting until the end of 2020. Jean-Paul Juncker, President of the European Commission, has already designated May 24 as the deadline for any Brexit extension.