Britain took a decisive step away from a damaging no-deal Brexit as members of Parliament and political leaders backed efforts to prevent a disorderly departure from the European Union.
The House of Commons vote shortly before midnight Wednesday to block a no-deal divorce destroyed the dream of some of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party members for a clean break with the bloc as soon as next week. The bill — which May herself opposed — won by a single vote and will now move to Parliament’s upper chamber to complete its progress Thursday.
The vote makes a no-deal split from the EU “very unlikely,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Radio on Thursday. It is, though, up to the bloc to accept an extension, which is likely to come with conditions and needs unanimous support from EU leaders.
While the controversial bill is debated in the House of Lords, May’s Tories and Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition Labour Party will hold intensive talks to seek a compromise position on the post-Brexit relationship with the EU. The two leaders held initial discussions Wednesday that both described as “constructive,” and agreed to appoint teams to continue the talks.
The cross-party initiative is May’s last throw of the dice to get an agreement through Parliament so that the U.K. can leave the EU without having to hold European Parliamentary elections in May. But they’re fraught with danger for the premier, who suffered two ministerial resignations Wednesday over her outreach to the “Marxist” Labour leader.
A customs union looks like an area for compromise, with Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, one of the Brexiteer’s in May’s Cabinet, telling the BBC he could accept one if the alternative was not leaving the EU. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond also signalled it’s an area to look at.
May has signalled she wants a further extension, but it’s now almost certain Parliament will have the legislation to force her to seek one after Wednesday nights vote 313-312 on a bill put forward by rank-and-file lawmakers seeking to avert a no-deal Brexit. Its passage through the House of Lords on Thursday — where there is a clear pro-EU majority — is likely to be less fraught than in the Commons, where Brexiteer’s reacted with anger at its narrow passage.