British Prime Minister Theresa May suffered another embarrassing defeat on Thursday (14 February) after MPs voted against her Brexit strategy for the second time.
A government motion re-stating the position adopted by MPs two weeks ago was defeated by 303 votes to 258.
A number of Conservative MPs from the ‘hard Brexit-supporting’ European Research Group abstained, arguing that the motion, which is not legally binding, appeared to rule out a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
The vote increases the confusion over what the UK wants in Brexit talks with the European Union.
“There is no majority for the Prime Minister’s course of action for dealing with Brexit. The government cannot keep ignoring Parliament,” said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn following the vote.
Labour is urging May to rule out the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without a deal, and reverting to WTO terms, after 29 March.
“The prime minister continues to believe, and the debate itself indicated, that far from objecting to securing changes to the backstop that will allow us to leave with a deal, there was a concern from some Conservative colleagues about taking no deal off the table at this stage,” according to a statement issued by May’s office following the vote.
“The motion on 29 January remains the only one the House of Commons has passed expressing what it does want, and that is legally binding changes to address concerns about the backstop. The government will continue to pursue this with the EU to ensure we leave on time on 29 March.”
MPs also rejected an amendment by the Scottish National Party to revoke Article 50 by a majority of over 200. UK lawmakers will next get a chance to debate and vote on May’s EU strategy on 27 February.
The defeat is not legally binding but underlines the difficulty of May’s task in attempting to obtain concessions from the EU while struggling to be able to maintain a majority.
Two weeks ago, MPs voted to re-open talks with the EU on the Irish backstop and instead agree on ‘alternative arrangements’ to avoid the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
However, talks between EU and UK officials since then have done nothing to break the impasse, with EU officials complaining that the UK is still yet to offer any new concrete proposals.
There are fears in Westminster and Brussels that May’s tactic is now to drag the talks out until after a European Council summit on 21 March before offering MPs the choice between the existing Withdrawal Agreement and a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
Earlier this week, May’s chief Brexit adviser Olly Robbins was overheard in a Brussels bar appearing to suggest that she would wait until March – and then give MPs the choice between backing her, or accepting a long extension to article 50.
The threat of extending Article 50, and thereby delaying the date when the UK formally leaves the EU, is seen as a way to persuade members of the 93-strong European Research Group caucus to eventually support Mrs May’s agreement.