18 Dec 2018

Theresa May sets January date for MPs' Brexit vote

6:12 am on 18 December 2018

British MPs will vote on the UK's Brexit deal in the week beginning 14 January, Theresa May has told Parliament.

British Prime Minister Theresa May.

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: AFP

The vote was due to be held last week but was put on hold after Theresa May admitted she was set to lose.

Announcing a new date, Mrs May said the EU had made it clear the Irish backstop was "not a plot to trap the UK" and urged MPs to see Brexit through.

Labour had threatened to force a confidence vote in the prime minister if she did not set a date for the vote.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mrs May had "led the country into a national crisis" and she no longer had cabinet backing.

He said a month would have been wasted since the original 11 December vote was postponed, with "not a single word renegotiated and not a single reassurance given".

"The deal is unchanged and is not going to change," he said. "The House must get on with the vote and move to consider the realistic alternatives."

In a statement, Mrs May said MPs would resume the debate on her Brexit deal - which was halted last week - in the week of 7 January with "meaningful" vote taking place in the following week.

She said she had won fresh guarantees at last week's EU summit over measures to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and hoped to secure additional "political and legal assurance" in the coming weeks.

She ruled out the case for another referendum, saying a fresh vote would do "irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics" and not settle the issue.

'Laughing stock'

But the Scottish National Party's Ian Blackford said the government was a "laughing stock" and Parliament needed to "take control of the situation and find a solution", insisting "let us have this meaningful vote this week".

Earlier, Mrs May's office said it had "no plans" for votes on other Brexit outcomes if the PM's deal is rejected, after it emerged David Cameron had given advice to his successor.

The BBC reported Mr Cameron had been in touch with Mrs May about how a series of "indicative votes" on various different Brexit outcomes could be handled if there was deadlock over the terms of the UK's exit.

Downing Street said Mrs May, who called off a House of Commons vote on her Brexit deal last week, was focused on getting the extra assurances MPs needed to finally back it next month.

Meanwhile, she faces the threat from Labour of a no-confidence motion in her as prime minister, if she fails to set a date for the delayed MPs' vote on her proposed Brexit deal.

But an EU spokesman said it had provided the "clarifications" requested on the contentious issue of the Northern Irish backstop and "no further meetings were foreseen".

The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 - the deal sets out the terms of exit and includes a declaration on the outline of the future relations between the UK and the EU. But it only comes into force if the UK and European Parliaments approve it.

The prime minister has signalled MPs will now vote on this early next year, and no later than 21 January.

But Labour and other opposition parties, as well as some Tory Brexiteers say a decision is needed now, so alternative options can be considered if Mrs May's deal is rejected.

They are seeking to force a vote before the Christmas recess begins on Thursday, although it was not clear how they could do this.

Potential "Plan B" options include:

  • Pursuing different Norway or Canada-style arrangements with the EU
  • Leaving on the basis of a "managed no deal"
  • Delaying Brexit to restart negotiations
  • Hold a fresh referendum

Calls for another referendum have grown in recent weeks amid signs a majority of MPs are opposed both to the deal on the table but also leaving the EU without any kind of agreement.

Mr Blair said last week that after 30 months of negotiation, giving the final say to the people would become the "logical" outcome if there was a deadlock and every other option had been exhausted.

But Mrs May told MPs: "Let us not break faith with the British people by trying to stage another referendum.

"Another vote which would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics, because it would say to millions who trusted in democracy, that our democracy does not deliver.

"Another vote which would likely leave us no further forward than the last. And another vote which would further divide our country at the very moment we should be working to unite it."

Mrs May is coming under pressure from cabinet ministers to "test the will of Parliament" through a series of "indicative" non-binding votes - which would see MPs pass judgement on the options available in the hope of identifying the most popular.


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