MPs decisively reject second Brexit referendum in Commons vote
The 249-vote defeat came as MPs prepared to decide whether to seek a delay to the March 29 date for EU withdrawal.
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.
And by the far narrower margin of 314-312, MPs voted down a cross-party bid for Parliament to seize control of the Brexit process.
The cross-party amendment, tabled by MPs including Labour’s Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper and Tory Sir Oliver Letwin, would have forced a set of “indicative votes” to determine the preferred Brexit outcome of the House of Commons.
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 is 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.
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 rejected by 318 votes to 302, majority 16.
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.”
Labour whipped its MPs to abstain on the referendum vote, but 24 voted in favour – not including Brighton’s Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who went through both lobbies to cancel his own vote out.
TIG Brexit spokeswoman Anna Soubry said: “This is a betrayal of Labour Party members and voters, Labour MPs, Labour’s conference policy and, most importantly, the British public. The Labour Party leadership are determined to deliver Brexit, which would harm our country.”
Labour revealed that leader Jeremy Corbyn and senior aides have met with backbenchers Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, who are promoting a plan to accept Mrs May’s deal on the condition that it is subject to a second referendum.
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.”