Historic legislation to delay Brexit has been passed by MPs in a frantic bid to force Theresa May to avoid crashing out of the EU without a Brussels deal.
Yvette Cooper’s EU Withdrawal (No.5) Act 2019 became law at breakneck speed, taking just two days flat to clear its passage through both Houses of Parliament.
The new act gives MPs the right to force the prime minister to extend the Article 50 process that covers the UK’s exit from the 28-nation bloc.
After Speaker Bercow said that Royal Assent would be formally granted quickly, it was duly enacted in the House of Lords, witnessed by a handful of Tory Brexiteers.
In a move that saw the Commons effectively wrest control of the Brexit process from the government, the legislation compels ministers to bring forward a new motion on Tuesday to delay Brexit beyond the current date of this Friday.
Although May has already postponed ‘exit day’ from March 29, Britain had been facing a fresh ‘cliff-edge’ departure on April 12 if May’s own Brexit deal failed to get approval from parliament.
Within seconds of the Commons passing the legislation, the government tabled the required motion for Tuesday, which will set out a new exit date.
The motion reads:
“This House agrees for the purposes of section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 to the Prime Minister seeking an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union to a period ending on 30 June 2019.”
After the bill’s passage, Cooper said that both Houses of Parliament had now made clear they would not tolerate a no-deal exit.
“This cross-party Bill helps prevent a chaotic No Deal in four days time hitting jobs, manufacturing, medicine supplies, policing and security,” she said.
“That is why it is so important that Parliament has responded to the gravity and urgency of the situation by passing the legislation in time.”
The extension, which also paves the way for the UK to take part in the European Parliament elections, is bitterly opposed by many Tory Brexiteers.
But with Labour’s help, it is expected to pass through the Commons, just a day before May travels to Brussels on Wednesday to request extra time for extricating Britain from the European Union.
Cooper’s bill, which was backed by a cross-party alliance of MPs who feared a ‘no-deal’ exit, scraped through last week by just one vote.
It cleared its Commons stages just hours after the House of Lords passed the legislation, with a crucial amendment that gives the government flexibility over ‘exit day’.
Talks are ongoing between Labour and the government over a possible Brexit compromise.
The opposition and even many ministers are keen for a longer pause to give Parliament time to sort out the kind of exit it wants, or whether it wants a fresh referendum on the UK’s membership.
During a heated debate on Monday night, Brexiteer John Redwood said that the bill’s “lightning” passage through the Commons was ‘scandalous’.
“This Parliament needs to wake up and get real,” he said, claiming MPs were bypassing the 17 million people who voted to Leave in the 2016 referendum.