Theresa May's Brexit deal defeated for third time
European leaders have reacted to news of Theresa May's third Brexit defeat with regret, concern and frustration.
EU Council President Donald Tusk confirmed he would be calling an emergency summit of European leaders just minutes after the results were announced.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator, said British lawmakers need to find a way forward to avoid no deal. "We are ready to change the Political Declaration" to allow for a vote on a new path, he added.
Fellow EU negotiator Michel Barnier expressed regret from Poland, and also appealed for Britain to confirm a new way forward.
"I regret the further rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement. We continue to advocate an orderly #Brexit, even if it is now becoming less and less likely," Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz added.
European Commission Secretary General Martin Selmayr, meanwhile, reiterated that no-deal is still the default outcome on April 12.
Theresa May has been trying to win over the hardliners in her party for weeks. Many flipped – especially after her offer to resign if the deal went through – but it wasn't enough. Voting tallies show that 34 Conservative MPs opposed the deal on Friday.
That group included Brexiteers such as Steve Baker and Mark Francois -- who broke with colleagues including Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg by standing firm against the deal -- as well as pro-Remain lawmakers such as Dominic Grieve and Justine Greening.
Here's how each party voted:
Ayes - 286 in total: 277 Conservative MPs; five Labour MPs; four Independent MPs.
Noes - 344 in total: 34 Conservative MPs; 234 Labour MPs; 34 Scottish National Party MPs; 11 Liberal Democrat MPs; 10 DUP MPs; four Plaid Cymru MPs; one Green Party MP; 16 independent MPs, including the 11 lawmakers that make up the Independent Group.
Former UKIP leader and one of the chief architects of Brexit, Nigel Farage, has just spoken to cheering crowds at the pro-Brexit rally outside Parliament.
It's clear what he wants: A no-deal Brexit. "Let's hope and pray" that Britain leaves the EU without a deal, he told supporters. "I fear that the betrayal we’ve seen … will probably be repeated on the 12th of April."
But Farage expressed his determination to fight European elections and, if necessary, a second Brexit vote.
"Let us not be disheartened," he said. "If that means we have to fight the European elections on the 23rd of May, let me tell you – I will fight them."
"If they force us to fight a second referendum, we’ll beat them by a bigger margin than last time," he added.
The streets outside the House of Commons are filled with demonstrators expressing their anger, on what had previously been identified as Britain's Brexit date. "People here outside the House of Commons, Whitehall and across our country must have their votes respected," pro-Brexit MP Henry Smith tweeted from the protests.
It is a glorious afternoon in the Belgian capital. Around the EU institutions, people are outside enjoying the March sunshine as the bars and cafes put tables and chairs on the pavements of south west Brussels.
While Brexit may be the main topic of conversation inside the European Union building, outside, Belgians would rather talk about the current state of their own political crisis – a caretaker government has been in place since 2018 which holds very little power. That, and the European Parliament’s decision to ban on single use plastic by 2021.
Brexit, it seems, is very much the UK's problem.
Protesters outside Parliament are "pretty happy" that May's deal has failed, CNN's Matthew Chance has found. "They don’t regard it as the kind of Brexit that they want," he says.
“If you scratch a little deeper, you get to this underlying concern that people have been expressing -- that Brexit might not happen at all," Chance adds.
“There is a concern a lengthy delay may mean a soft Brexit, or no Brexit at all."
“Democracy has been destroyed today,” one of the demonstrators, Harry from Newcastle, told CNN. “I would have liked to have left with a deal, but we voted to leave. There was no deal mentioned when we decided to leave.”
UKIP leader Gerard Batten, far-right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (also known as Tommy Robinson) and pro-Brexit pub chain owner Tim Martin were among the figures speaking to enthusiastic crowds on Friday afternoon, while police surrounded Parliament square and helicopters hovered overhead.
Meanwhile, SNP lawmaker Joanna Cherry said she struggled to get to media interviews because of an "intimidatory atmosphere" outside Parliament. (She eventually got through the crowds and appeared on CNN, among other outlets.)
The looming threat of a "chaotic" no-deal Brexit is troubling workers and businesses, the US Chamber of Commerce has said.
Marjorie Chorlins, executive director of the Chamber’s US-UK Business Council, issued a statement in response to Parliament again rejecting Theresa May's Brexit deal.
Here's what it says:
“We are troubled by the considerable uncertainty that results from today’s vote, leaving us now just 14 days away from a chaotic No-Deal Brexit. We urge MPs to find consensus immediately on a way forward that avoids what surely would be a disastrous development for consumers, workers and businesses alike.”
The question everyone is asking in Westminster is, what next? The honest answer is no one really knows. But there are some fixed points and other things that can be inferred.
The next week is crucial – if a credible alternative to Theresa May's thrice-defeated deal is not found, the UK will crash out of the EU without a deal.
Here's a road map for the next crucial Brexit dates.
Monday April 1: Second day of debates controlled by lawmakers, when they will again have their say on various Brexit alternatives.
While there was no majority for any of the eight options put before Parliament last week, a plan for the UK to remain in the EU's customs union failed by only six votes. A proposal for a second referendum gained the most "yes" votes overall.
Lawmakers are now busy revising the plans to see if they can be made more likely to pass. Some may be combined with others.
Wednesday April 3: Oliver Letwin, the veteran Conservative parliamentarian who is running the process, also wants to take over Commons business on Wednesday. This would presumably be a final effort to secure a majority around one of the Brexit plans.
Thursday April 4: Theresa May indicated she would allow the Letwin process run its course. That makes Thursday something of a decision day. If the indicative votes provide some clarity, the Prime Minister could, conceivably, ask Parliament to choose between her plan and the winner of the indicative votes.
As Westminster correspondents noted, it's not clear how this would work.
Another option for May would be to call a general election or stand aside for another leader to sort out the situation.
Any of these options would require the UK to seek a long extension to the Article 50 process. The EU has said it would be only be open to such an extension if the UK presented a credible plan to break the deadlock.
The European Commission warned that that the UK could crash out of the EU without a deal:
It will be for the UK to indicate the way forward before that date, for consideration by the European Council. A “no-deal” scenario on 12 April is now a likely scenario..
Wednesday April 10: European leaders will convene for an emergency summit called by EU Council President Donald Tusk. They could use this summit to discuss a British request for a delay to Brexit. Or it could be used to finalise preparations for a no-deal Brexit on April 12.
This is what the Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, said:
"I believe we must be open to a long extension should the United Kingdom decide to fundamentally reconsider its approach to Brexit and put back on the table options previously ruled out. I believe that will result in a generous and understanding response from the 27 (EU leaders)."
Friday April 12: This is still the date where Britain is set to leave the European Union. If no longer delay is agreed and no Brexit deal is passed in Parliament, the UK will crash out with no deal.
There's a lot of talk flying around about canceling Brexit by revoking Article 50 – the mechanism by which a member state can leave the EU.
The European Court of Justice ruled in December that it was acceptable for a member state to unilaterally revoke Article 50.
It's the favored option of the Scottish National Party (see previous post), and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. "The PM must now do the right thing – immediately revoke Article 50 and give the British public the final say on Brexit," Khan said.
Unfortunately, it's not that simple.
While, in the ECJ's advocate general's opinion, unilateral withdrawal is fine, the key paragraph of his conclusion reads as follows:
"When a Member State has notified the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the European Union, Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union allows the unilateral revocation of that notification, until such time as the withdrawal agreement is formally concluded, provided that the revocation has been decided upon in accordance with the Member State’s constitutional requirements, is formally notified to the European Council and does not involve an abusive practice."
The "constitutional requirements" condition means it's likely parliament would have to approve revocation – something that it has rejected before.
The ECJ agreed on this point and offered further clarification on another.
"To revoke that notification unilaterally, in an unequivocal and unconditional manner, by a notice addressed to the European Council in writing, after the Member State concerned has taken the revocation decision in accordance with its constitutional requirements. The purpose of that revocation is to confirm the EU membership of the Member State concerned under terms that are unchanged as regards its status as a Member State, and that revocation brings the withdrawal procedure to an end."
Place the fact that withdrawal must also be "unequivocal" and "unconditional" the Advocate General's comments about "abusive practice", this makes things tricky. In the opinion of the Institute for Government, this "implies that the UK could not revoke to get a breathing space in order to prepare better to resend the Article 50 notification in due course."
All of this stuff is unprecedented and a little bit murky. But one thing is clear: As with all things Brexit, nothing is straightforward.
This post has been updated to include the ECJ's judgment for clarity.
The next date lawmakers will be circling in their Brexit diaries is Monday, when the second round of indicative votes take place. If any alternative plan gains a majority, it could help pave a way out of the country's Brexit standstill.
One plan that will be put forward for a second time is revoking Article 50 and halting the Brexit process altogether.
The plan will be "tabled once again for Monday, in a slightly different form," Joanna Cherry, the SNP lawmaker behind the motion, told CNN. "This time in a form that I am confident will command more support."
"In order to command cross-party support, what I’m trying to do is use revocation as a backstop, a fail-safe, to prevent Britain leaving with no deal," Cherry said. "Leaving with no deal is not the only option."
Cherry said around 40 MPs have already pledged their support to the motion, including Conservative anti-Brexit MP Dominic Grieve, but she expects many more to be added. The plan was supported by 184 lawmakers on Wednesday.
She believes it will command more support after Friday's vote on Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement.