MPs have forced Theresa May to effectively rule out a no-deal Brexit by seizing control of the Commons and passing their own laws - but only just.
In an historic night in parliament, Labour MP Yvette Cooper’s legislation to force the prime minister to extend Article 50 beyond April 12 passed its final division by 313 votes to 312, a majority of one.
It came after a cross-party group of MPs led by Tory Sir Oliver Letwin won a vote to seize control of the Commons to allow time for Cooper’s bill also by a majority of just one on an evening of knife edge Commons drama.
There were also chaotic scenes as Cooper rammed through the legislation in just one evening, with MPs complaining they did not receive copies of amendments in time for the debate and reports that a broken Commons printer meant officials could not even print out the bill.
Once the laws are approved by the House of Lords, which backers are hoping could happen as quickly as Thursday, May will “immediately” have to put before MPs a proposal to extend Article 50.
Crucially, their bill will give May the responsibility for setting out the length of any extension, but MPs will then be able to amend the exit date.
If the EU suggests a different timescale, the PM will be forced to return to the Commons for another vote.
Introducing her European Union (Withdrawal) (No.5) Bill, Cooper said it was still needed because although the PM has signalled she wants to extend Article 50 “there is no clear process of how those decisions will be taken”, adding her bill “adds some clarity”.
She added: “It also ensures we do not slip back into that no-deal cliff edge by accident because of the nature of the difficult conversations and the complexities of what we’re facing.”
Cooper also saw off a series of attempted amendments, including an attempt by Tory George Eustice to ensure Brexit is delayed no further than June 30.
But Cooper said there was “not agreement and no consensus” on how to solve the Brexit mess and called on MPs to come together and compromise.
She said: “Three years on from the referendum the biggest problem for all of us is that so little has been done to heal the national Brexit divide or to bring people together and this is major constitutional change and if there isn’t that effort made to bring people together, then to be honest whatever we conclude either today, tomorrow, next week, it won’t last because there won’t have been that work to build the consensus.”
While Cooper’s bill was a win for the cross-party group of MPs who have been trying to facilitate compromise, Speaker john Bercow delivered them a blow earlier in the evening by blocking a third round of votes on Brexit alternatives.
In a night of hihg drama, he used his casting ballot in the first tied vote in more than 25 years to defeat Labour MP HIlary Benn’s amendment to seize control of the Commons for indicative votes on Monday.