Theresa May has caved to pressure and given MPs the opportunity to vote on whether they want to delay Brexit if she cannot get her deal through Parliament in the next few weeks.
The Prime Minister today announced that a further ‘meaningful vote’ on her deal will take place by 12 March.
If MPs reject the deal there will be two further votes – one the next day on leaving with no deal and another one a day later on extending Article 50.
If Parliament rules out no deal, MPs will be given the option of a ‘short extension not beyond the end of June’, Mrs May told the House of Commons today.
The move represents a significant u-turn on the part of the Prime Minister, and follows months of Downing Street insisting that the UK will leave the EU on 29 March.
Indicating she had come to the decision reluctantly, Mrs May said: “Let me be clear, I do not want to see article 50 extended, our absolute focus should be on getting a deal and leaving on March 29.”
Mrs May stopped short of ruling out no deal entirely. She said: “An extension cannot take no deal off the table. The only way to do that is to revoke Article 50, which I shall not do, or agree a deal.”
Jeremy Corbyn said Mrs May has become an “expert in kicking the can down the road”.
He said: “The problem is the road is running out and the consequences of running down the clock are evident and very real for industry and for people’s jobs.”
He argued Labour accepts the result of the 2016 referendum and the party is offering an alternative plan.
May’s battle to avert Tory rebellion
The announcement follows mounting pressure on the PM to rule out a no-deal Brexit after as many as 15 Tory ministers threatened to quit over the issue.
Three ministers published a plea in the Daily Mail to urge Mrs May to extend Article 50 to avoid leaving with no deal.
Industry minister Richard Harrington, digital minister Margot James and energy minister Claire Perry warned against being ‘swept over the precipice on March 29’.
It followed a warning by three cabinet ministers – Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark – at the weekend that they would vote for a Brexit delay if a deal cannot be reached.
On Tuesday morning, Ms James told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Mrs May needs to rule out the “catastrophe” of a no-deal Brexit by extending Article 50 if she is unable to secure parliamentary support for her Withdrawal Agreement.
“All of us were agreed that we couldn’t be part of a government that allowed the country to leave the EU without a deal,” she said.
“As D-day approaches, I think we felt honour-bound to actually do something to help prevent such catastrophe.”
She said she was prepared to quit or be sacked over her stance, saying: “If it comes to that, yes.”
European Council president Donald Tusk revealed this week that he had discussed the legal and procedural process for extending the two-year Article 50 withdrawal negotiations with Mrs May when he met her on Sunday in Egypt.
Mr Tusk said delaying the UK’s withdrawal beyond March 29 is now a “rational solution”, warning that the only alternative, if MPs cannot agree a deal, is “a chaotic Brexit”.