British parliamentarians have narrowly approved a bill seeking to delay Brexit, as they attempt to avoid a no-deal exit from the European Union.
In a third reading, the House of Commons voted by 313 votes to 312 late on Wednesday in favour of forcing Prime Minister Theresa May to seek an extension of the current Brexit date of April 12.
The bill, which would require May to bring a motion to delay the date of Brexit, now needs to be approved by the upper house, the House of Lords. The European Union would also need to agree to a delay.
May also said she would ask the EU for a further delay to Britain’s departure date – postponed once already – to avert a chaotic and economically damaging no-deal Brexit on April 12.
Sceptical MPs, reluctant to take her word for it, approved a hastily crafted law that compels May to ask for an extension to the Brexit deadline if a no-deal departure is looming.
“The country needs a solution, the country deserves a solution, and that’s what I’m working to find,” May told MPs before meeting Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for about two hours.
Downing Street said both sides were “showing flexibility” and would agree a “programme of work” late on Wednesday before another full day of talks between their teams on Thursday.
“There hasn’t been as much change as I expected but we will have further discussions tomorrow to explore technical issues,” Corbyn said in a statement.
“I put forward the view from the Labour party that we want to achieve a customs union with the EU, access to the single market and dynamic regulatory alignment, that is, a guarantee of European regulations as
a minimum on the environment, consumer and workers’ rights,” he said.
“I also raised the option of a public vote to prevent crashing out or leaving on a bad deal,” Corbyn added.
Earlier, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker reiterated the EU’s position that Britain should get the Brexit deadline extended to May 22 if May could persuade MPs to approve her withdrawal agreement, which has already been rejected three times, in the next few days.
May said late on Tuesday that she planned to ask Brussels for a further Brexit extension as she tried to avoid a no-deal outcome.
“If the United Kingdom is in a position to approve the withdrawal agreement with a sustainable majority by April 12, the EU should likewise in this case accept a delay until May 22,” said Juncker.
But if British MPs failed to agree on the deal, “no further short extension will be possible,” he warned, citing the risk of jeopardising the European Parliament elections in late May.
EU leaders are meeting at an emergency summit on April 10 and appear divided over whether they should offer May any more help.