U.K. lawmakers voted in favor of seeking a delayed departure from the EU for at least three months, marking another step in a political crisis that has ripped through the heart of Westminster.
Members of Parliament (MPs) voted 412 to 202 for an extension of Article 50 — which sets out the EU departure process — beyond its current March 29 deadline. The vote Thursday evening was nonbinding, however, and the EU will have to agree to a delay. Brussels has already said Britain needs to justify requesting such an extension.
The vote completes a dramatic trilogy of events this week which have added yet more confusion into the whole Brexit process. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal suffered a second humiliating defeat as it was voted down by a majority of 149 votes. Then on Wednesday, U.K. lawmakers rejected the idea of leaving the bloc without a withdrawal agreement in place.
The main motion Thursday evening was tabled by May and her government and its passing was a rare piece of good news for the U.K. leader during a difficult week. The exact wording meant that lawmakers backed an extension until June 30 if Parliament approves the government's Brexit deal by March 20.
The motion was in danger of being radically altered by a series of amendments, which would have frustrated May's government once again. U.K. politicians narrowly voted against a senior opposition MP's amendment which would have allowed lawmakers to take control of the parliamentary business and potentially hold votes that test out different Brexit options, undermining May's control of the situation.
Sterling was unchanged after the result.
May has already indicated that she will bring her much-maligned Brexit deal back in front of Parliament next week for another vote. No date has yet been scheduled for the third so-called meaningful vote. However, the government motion states it must take place before March 20.
With time running out — and a fear that a long delay could mean Brexit is canceled altogether — pro-Brexit rebels in May's party could change their minds and vote alongside the U.K leader next week — finally passing the deal at the third attempt. If lawmakers reject May's deal again next week then she's said she will seek a longer extension to the departure date.
Paul Dales, chief U.K. economist at Capital Economics, believes the vote Thursday does diminish the downside risk to the country's economy and increases the chances of a more favorable near-term economic outcome.
"A delay to Brexit now seems very likely," he said in a research note. "Overall, the only decision on Brexit Parliament has taken this week is that it's not ready to make a decision! That in itself reduces the downside risk to the economy, the pound and gilt [U.K. government bond] yields. But the ball may soon be in the EU's court."