British lawmakers overwhelmingly vote in favor of delaying Brexit

Lawmakers in the House of Commons overwhelmingly backed a government motion on Thursday to ask for a three month delay to Brexit, which is currently scheduled for March 29.

The move has also paved the way for a third vote on British Prime Minister Theresa May's divorce deal with the European Union, which could take place early next week.

Thursday's vote comes at the end of a week of defeats for May, which saw her Brexit deal voted down for a second time on Tuesday, as well as a vote on Wednesday which saw lawmakers reject a no-deal Brexit under any circumstances.

What you need to know:

  • With a vote of 412 to 202, lawmakers overwhelmingly backed the government's motion to ask the EU to push the divorce date back to June 30.
  • The government's motion states that it would ask for the three-month delay — but on the condition that Parliament approves May's withdrawal agreement with the EU.
  • Lawmakers also overwhelmingly voted down the prospect of a second referendum — with only 85 MPs backing the amendment, while 334 voted against it.
  • An amendment that would have given lawmakers more control over the Brexit process narrowly lost, with 312 voting in favor and 314 against.
  • An amendment to block May from bringing her divorce deal back for a third vote was withdrawn.

What happens next:

The vote means that May's government will ask the EU for a one-off extension to Article 50, extending the divorce date until June 30.

But there is one condition — May will only ask for the short-term extension if lawmakers approve the Withdrawal Agreement she agreed with the EU. British lawmakers have already rejected May's divorce deal in two prior votes by record margins.

Should MPs vote to support the deal by Wednesday March 20, May will request the short-term extension when she heads to an EU leaders summit in Brussels, which is taking place on March 21 and 22.

If her deal is rejected a third time, the prime minister will still try to secure a short-term delay, although she will be heading to Brussels without a clear reason for the extension — something that EU leaders have said is a must in order to secure a delay.

May has warned that the UK could face a much longer Brexit delay if her deal is not approved, and that the UK would have to hold European Parliament elections in May 2019 if an extension goes beyond June.

Read more: Brexit — Is the EU willing to grant an Article 50 extension?

Where does the EU stand?

Although British lawmakers voted to support extending the Brexit deadline past March 29, it's not certain that the EU will grant it.

EU leaders have expressed frustration at the political turbulence taking place in London, saying that they would grant an extension but would need a concrete reason from the UK for doing so.

Shortly following the latest vote on Thursday, a European Commission spokesperson emphasized that any extension would require "unanimous approval" from the leaders of the remaining 27 member states.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's Brexit coordinator, said that British lawmakers need to make clear what they want and that the EU should put pressure on the UK to move Brexit forward.

"We have to increase the pressure," Verhofstadt told German broadcaster ZDF. "How many votes have there been, and every time it’s a negative majority, a majority against something. The time has come where we must see a broad majority that goes beyond the party lines."

Read more: Brexit deal vote — European Union closes ranks in response

Trump 'surprised at how badly' Brexit has been going

US President Donald Trump weighed-in on the upheaval surrounding the UK's departure from the EU on Thursday, saying that he is "surprised at how badly" the negotiations have been going and that the Brexit debate is "tearing the country apart."

He also criticized May's handling of the negotiations, saying that she did not heed his advice.

"She didn't listen to that, and that's fine. I mean ... she's got to do what she's got to do. But I think it could have been negotiated in a different manner, frankly," Trump told reporters at the White House ahead of a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

Trump added that he still hopes to secure a "large scale" trade agreement with the UK.

rs/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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