MPs decisively reject second Brexit referendum in Commons vote
MPs have decisively rejected an attempt to secure a second referendum on Brexit.
The House of Commons voted by 334 to 85 – a margin of 249 – against an amendment tabled by members of The Independent Group (TIG) of former Labour and Tory MPs, who quit their parties in part because of differences over EU withdrawal.
The decision to press the referendum 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.
The Commons was later due to vote on a motion from Prime Minister Theresa May to extend the two-year Article 50 negotiation process beyond the scheduled date of March 29.
And a cross-party group of senior backbench MPs has launched a bid to allow Parliament to decide what kind of Brexit deal should be negotiated in an expected extension of talks with Brussels.
The cross-party amendment, tabled by MPs including Labour’s Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper and Tory Sir Oliver Letwin, calls for a series of “indicative votes” to determine MPs’ preferred Brexit outcome.
The votes came as US President Donald Trump said Brexit was ripping Britain apart and warned that another referendum would be “unfair”.
Speaking during Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s visit to the White House, Mr Trump said: “I’m surprised at how badly it’s all gone from the standpoint of a negotiation. I gave the Prime Minister my ideas on how to negotiate it.
“She didn’t listen to that and that’s fine – she’s got to do what she’s got to do.
“I think it could have been negotiated in a different manner, frankly. I hate to see everything being ripped apart now.”
The third evening of Brexit votes in the Commons came after MPs rejected Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement by a 149-vote margin on Tuesday and then inflicted further defeat on the PM on Wednesday by voting to rule out a no-deal outcome.
Ministers met for a special political meeting of Cabinet, at which Mrs May was said to have berated four senior colleagues who defied the Tory whip to abstain in the no-deal vote.
Conservative MPs have been given a free vote on Mrs May’s motion, which proposes a one-off delay of Brexit day to June 30 if her Withdrawal Agreement is approved in a third “meaningful vote” ahead of next week’s EU summit in Brussels.
But it warns that if her deal is rejected for a third time any extension would have to be longer and would involve the UK taking part in European Parliament elections in May.
Cabinet Office minister David Lidington told MPs that in this case, the Government would stage two weeks of debate following the March 21-22 summit for the Commons to try to establish a majority around a different plan.
Mr Bercow sparked fury among Brexiteers by selecting TIG MP Sarah Wollaston’s referendum proposal for debate, while blocking another amendment, signed by 127 MPs, which sought to rule out a second public vote.
A Labour amendment demanding an extension to Article 50 withdrawal negotiations to provide time to “find a majority for a different approach” was also selected for debate.
A spokesman for the People’s Vote campaign said they regarded Dr Wollaston’s decision to press the referendum case to a vote as premature.
“We do not think today is the right time to test the will of the House on the case for a new public vote,” said the spokesman. “Instead, this is the time for Parliament to declare it wants an extension of Article 50 so that, after two-and-a-half years of vexed negotiations, our political leaders can finally decide on what Brexit means.”
Any extension must be approved unanimously by the 27 remaining EU states, and Austrian foreign minister Karin Kneissl said there could be “some problem” in obtaining this if it took Brexit beyond the date of elections.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney told RTE radio: “If you have a long extension of, say, 21 months to the end of 2020 – whatever the period would be – then Britain has a legal entitlement to have representation in the European Parliament” and so must take part in EU elections.
European Council president Donald Tusk has indicated that the EU may be ready to offer a lengthy extension to negotiations if the UK wants to “rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it”.
But Mrs May left no doubt that she opposes a lengthy delay, telling MPs: “I do not think that would be the right outcome. But the House needs to face up to the consequences of the decisions it has taken.”