MPs will have their say on the next steps for Brexit later after European leaders indicated they would consider delaying the UK’s departure if a deal is not agreed by 29 March.
Germany’s Angela Merkel said if the UK needed more time to get Parliament’s approval, she would “not oppose” it.
Theresa May has said MPs will get a vote on delaying Brexit if her deal and a no-deal outcome are both rejected.
MPs will vote on amendments to a government motion in the Commons later.
Wednesday’s votes are not on Mrs May’s Brexit deal itself – she says that will happen before 12 March.
Instead, MPs are seeking assurances and to hold the PM to her commitment, made on Tuesday, to allow MPs a vote on extending 29 March’s Brexit deadline to avoid Britain leaving without a deal.
Ministers have said they accept the need to protect the rights of EU citizens whether there is a deal or not and have agreed to press the EU to adopt existing guarantees even if there is no wider deal.
The prime minister’s critics have accused her of “kicking the can down the road” with her pledge to hold more votes before 12 March – just 17 days before Brexit.
But she insisted her efforts to persuade the EU to make concessions had “already begun to bear fruit”.
A debate on a government motion on the next steps for Brexit is under way in the Commons.
In all, 12 amendments – alternative plans – were tabled by MPs, and the Speaker, John Bercow, has selected five for MPs’ consideration later.
They include amendments from Labour and the SNP; as well as from Conservative MP Caroline Spelman, Conservative Alberto Costa and another from Labour’s Yvette Cooper.
The government has said it will back the Costa amendment, which seeks to protect the rights of UK citizens in the EU, and vice versa, regardless of the outcome of UK-EU negotiations.
The amendment – which calls on the UK to secure agreement on this at “the earliest opportunity” – has gained significant cross-party backing from 141 MPs – including Labour and the Democratic Unionists.
Despite this, Mr Costa has resigned his job as aide to Scottish Secretary David Mundell, because of a convention that members of the government should not amend government motions.
Cabinet Office minister David Lidington told MPs that ministers would accept the amendment because its “political aims were the same” as the government’s.
Earlier Home Secretary Sajid Javid told the Home Affairs Select Committee he was “perfectly happy” with the amendment” although what the EU did was outside of the government’s control.
Labour’s amendment calls on MPs to support its alternative Brexit plan, which would include a “comprehensive customs union” and close alignment with the EU in the future.
This would mean no customs checks nor charges being imposed on goods moving between the UK and the rest of Europe.
If that proposal is voted down, Jeremy Corbyn has said the party would move to formally back another EU referendum “in order to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit” or no-deal outcome.
Mrs May has accused Labour of “playing political games” and argued the best way for the country to move forward is for MPs to approve the revised deal she hopes to bring back.
The SNP amendment insists the UK should not leave the EU in any circumstances without a deal “regardless of any exit date”.
The Spelman amendment looks unlikely to be put to a vote as supportive MPs signalled they were satisfied with ministers’ assurances the sequence of votes Mrs May promised on Tuesday would be honoured.
What does it mean to table an amendment?
The process starts with the government putting down a motion. It is a plain piece of text, asking the House to note the prime minister’s most recent Brexit statement – made on Tuesday – and that discussions between the UK and the EU are ongoing.
This then allows MPs to table amendments – alternative options – to that motion, setting out their proposals on what they think should happen next.
Other amendments – named after the MPs or groups which propose them – that have been chosen include:
- The Cooper amendment – This calls on the government to bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a “short limited extension” to Article 50 if the prime minister’s deal is rejected and if the House then rejects leaving without a deal. It reiterates the statement made by Mrs May on Tuesday.
- The Spelman amendment – This would give over the parliamentary schedule to MPs for a day so MPs can endorse the process Theresa May laid out to the Commons yesterday.
Mrs May said any delay to the UK’s departure should not go beyond the end of June and “would almost certainly have to be a one-off”.
Extending Article 50 would require the unanimous backing of the other 27 EU member states – something they have indicated they would be happy to do.
Speaking on Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would “not oppose” a request from the UK for more time although French President Emmanuel Macron struck a more sceptical note, saying there had to be a “clear objective” behind any extension.
“As our negotiator Michel Barnier has said, we don’t need more time but decisions,” he said during a meeting in Paris. “The time has come therefore for the British to make choices.”