13:46, April 03 54 0 theguardian.com

2019-04-03 13:46:05
MPs pass motion to debate article 50 extension by one vote

MPs have voted by a majority of just one MP to consider a snap bill to force an extension to article 50 – a bill Labour’s Yvette Cooper and the Conservative Sir Oliver Letwin aim to pass in just five hours.

Minutes before the vote an amendment from Labour’s Hilary Benn to grant more time for indicative votes was blocked in extraordinary circumstances, after the Speaker, John Bercow, was forced to make the casting vote after a tied result in the Commons.

MPs passed the timetabling motion for Cooper’s bill, with 312 votes to 311, on Wednesday afternoon. The business motion agreed it could have both its remaining stages debated in the Commons in one afternoon, including two votes on its second and third readings.

But Benn’s amendment, which would have forced more time this Monday for indicative votes on Brexit options, fell after MPs’ votes were tied with 310 each way.

Bercow said it was precedent for the Speaker to vote with the government, which had opposed the motion and the amendments. “In accordance with precedent and on the principle that important decisions should not be taken except by majority, I cast my vote with the nos,” he said. “That is the proper way in which to proceed.”

The Speaker said the situation had not occurred since 1993, a vote which had involved the Maastricht treaty bill.

The government opposed both the Cooper-Letwin motion and Benn’s amendment, with the Commons leader, Andrea Leadsom, arguing earlier in the debate that the government had already said it would request a short extension.

Speaking in the debate Letwin said the government’s plan to seek an extension was a “enormously welcome development” and said he did not have doubts that they would seek to avoid a no deal but said there was still a need to pass legislation.

“There is concern that there should be a transparent and orderly statutory framework where the house has the opportunity to consider the length of the extension which is asked for and to provide the prime minister with backing for that request to the EU,” he said.

The veteran Brexiter Bill Cash called the bill “reprehensible” and said it would set a terrible precedent for the government to rush through legislation in a single day. “This is something profoundly undemocratic,” he said.

Labour and the SNP whipped in support of the motion and are expected to support Cooper’s bill later in the evening. MPs will debate and vote on all the bill’s remaining stages Wednesday evening, with votes at 7pm and 10pm on second and third readings.

If passed, the legislation could then be debated in the Lords as soon as Friday or Monday, where it is likely to encounter attempts to frustrate its progress by Eurosceptic peers. However, Labour sources in the Lords said supportive peers were preparing to stay up all night to ensure any attempts to filibuster the legislation were not successful.

MPs could still attempt to amend Cooper’s bill to change the terms of the extension. Brexiters including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker, as well as the Tory remainers Nicky Morgan and Damian Green, have submitted an amendment proposing the so-called Malthouse compromise. That amendment would commit the prime minster to extend article 50 until December 2021 to renegotiate the backstop in the withdrawal agreement and replace it with alternative arrangements.

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