Theresa May told MPs on Wednesday they would get to vote on both a no-deal and extending article 50 if MPs fail to back her deal by March 12th.
“The United Kingdom will only leave without a deal on 29th March if there is explicit consent in this House for that outcome,” said May.
If MPs reject leaving without a deal they will then be able to vote to extend Article 50, albeit by only a few months.
Given it appears there is a majority in parliament against the UK leaving without a deal, May's commitment should be positive news for Britons throughout the EU, whose futures would have been far more complicated in the event of a no-deal.
Britons had been watching Westminster closely given that Conservative MP Alberto Costa has tabled an amendment that would force British Prime Minister Theresa May to seek a deal with the EU to ring-fence the citizens' rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement before Brexit Day on March 29th.
If that deal is passed then at least most of the rights of British citizens in the EU and Europeans in the UK would be protected even if Britain crashes out of Europe without a deal.
For the move to succeed, Costa's amendment must first be selected for debate by the speaker. Although given it has already won the support of 130 lawmakers from all parties hopes are high that the amendment will be chosen among others.
That includes around 60 Conservative MPs including ardent Brexiteers like Jacob-Rees Mogg. And on Tuesday it emerged Labour MPs would back Costa's amendment.
Labour to back Alberto Costa plan to secure citizens rights…
— Nick Eardley (@nickeardleybbc) 26 février 2019
Reports on Tuesday suggest MP Alberto Costa will likely be forced out of the Conservative party over his efforts to protect citizens' rights.
It would be a travesty if Govt really forced @AlbertoCostaMP to resign for tabling an amendment which does nothing more than asking for the best protection possible for the @BritishInEurope in case of no-deal Brexit. Govt said #citizensrights were its number 1 priority. Maybe not https://t.co/GN8SsilCIy
— Axel Antoni (@antoni_UK) 26 février 2019
But he is adamant that something must be done.
“We have people getting job offers now for jobs next month and they have no idea what their rights are. It’s a farce. Enough is enough,” Costa said.
Campaign groups British in Europe and The3Million, which are leading the fight for citizens' rights in the EU and the UK have worked with Costa to win support for his amendment. Brits living in the EU have been encouraged to write to their MPs asking them to support the move if it comes to a vote.
Their message to MPs is 'it's time to stop using us as bargaining chips in negotiations'.
The citizens' rights part of the withdrawal agreement was agreed on in December 2017 and rubber stamped in March last year however it currently it would stand for nothing unless the overall withdrawal agreement is ratified by the British parliament.
While the citizens' rights part of the agreement ensures Britons can continue to live, work, retire in the EU and gain access to healthcare and uprated pensions it doesn't guarantee all the rights Britons in the EU currently enjoy such as onward freedom of movement.
European countries have moved to protect the rights of Britons in the event of a no-deal but the rights they would have are far less than those guaranteed in the withdrawal agreement.
If the amendment is passed there is still a long way to go. There is no guarantee Brussels would agree to ring-fence the citizens' rights deal and hasn't shown any great enthusiasm to do so up until now, despite persistent efforts from campaigners.
In her statement to MPs on Wednesday Prime Minister Theresa May said: “A separate agreement for citizens’ rights is something the EU have been clear they do not have the legal authority for.”
“If it is not done in a Withdrawal Agreement, these issues become a matter for member states unless the EU were to agree a new mandate to take this forward.”
“At the very start of this process the UK sought to separate out this issue, but that was something which the EU has been consistent on.”
“I urge all EU countries to make this guarantee and end the uncertainty for these citizens.”