29 Mar 2019

Brexit: MPs to vote on revised deal minus political declaration

7:26 am on 29 March 2019

A new vote on Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal will be held but with a difference: MPs have been told they will not be voting on the political declaration covering the UK's future relationship with the EU.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May listen as opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks in the House of Commons in London on March 25, 2019 after May outlined the next steps that parliament will take in the Brexit process.

Photo: AFP / PRU

The PM's deal includes a withdrawal agreement - setting out how much money the UK must pay to the EU as a settlement, details of the transition period, and the backstop arrangements - and a political declaration on the way the future EU-UK relationship will work.

MPs will vote on the withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU covering all but that declaration. If they back the deal, the UK would leave the EU on 22 May, the government said.

Commons Speaker John Bercow said it was a "new" motion and complied with his ruling that he would not allow a third "meaningful vote" on "substantially the same" motion as MPs had already rejected by historic margins twice.

Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom told MPs the European Council would only agree to extend Article 50 - delaying Brexit - until 22 May if MPs approved the withdrawal agreement by 11pm local time on Friday.

"It's crucial therefore that we make every effort to give effect to the Council's decision and tomorrow's motion gives Parliament the opportunity to secure that extension," she said.

"I think we can all agree that we don't want to be in the situation of asking for another extension and facing the potential requirement of participating in European Parliament elections."

Her Labour shadow Valerie Vaz asked for "further clarity ... on whether this is in fact the meaningful vote three?"

She faced anger from MPs, however.

Labour said that would lead to the "blindest of blind Brexits".

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said both European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had stressed that the withdrawal agreement and political declaration were part of the same "negotiated package".

He said to separate them "would mean leaving the EU with absolutely no idea where we are heading ... we wouldn't vote for that".

Labour's Mary Creagh also described it as an "extraordinary and unprecedented reverse ferret of the commitments that have been made ... that we should have our say on both items together".

Conservative Brexiteer Mark Francois said it was "absolutely plain" that the government's move amounted to a "decision in principle" about whether the House approves the withdrawal agreement.

The BBC's Vicki Young said separating the two might get around the Speaker's ruling but, after Sir Keir's intervention, looked unlikely to get more votes on board.

Last week the European Council agreed to postpone Brexit beyond the expected date of 29 March - offering an extension until 22 May, if MPs approved the deal negotiated with the EU by the end of this week. If not, it offered a shorter delay until 12 April, allowing the UK time to get the deal through or to "indicate a way forward".

What happened last night?

On Wednesday, the Commons failed to find a majority for a way forward after voting for eight different options to take Brexit forward - including leaving without a deal, creating a customs union and backing a confirmatory referendum on any deal.

Conservative MP Sir Oliver Letwin, who oversaw the process of "indicative votes", said the lack of a majority for any proposition was "disappointing".

But he told the Today programme no "assumptions" should be made about the outcome of further indicative votes, which he believes should take place on Monday, if the PM's deal is not approved this week.

The EU Commission's chief spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, said the bloc fully respected the process, but added: "We counted eight nos last night, now we need a yes on the way forward."

Ahead of Wednesday's debate, Mrs May told a meeting of Conservative backbenchers that she would not lead the talks with Brussels over the future relationship between the UK and EU.

What happens next?

The Prime Minister said yesterday she would resign as party leader after 22 May if her deal was passed, but stay on as PM until a new leader is elected. However, Downing Street said it would be a "different ball game" if the deal was not passed.

Although she has won over the likes of former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, a number of Brexiteers are still refusing to vote for the deal.

Mrs May needs to win over 75 rebels to overturn the 149-vote rejection of her deal on 13 March.

Many, including prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, will not side with her unless she gets the support of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party - whose leader said on Wednesday they could not vote for the deal.

The DUP's main objection is to the backstop, the "insurance policy" designed to avoid the return of border checkpoints between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the event a future trade deal is not agreed.

There are also signs Mrs May's offer to resign has hardened Labour opposition as they fear what the next Tory leader will push for.

Labour MP Liz Kendall said: "I am extremely worried about our future relationship with the EU, and whatever is agreed in Parliament on the withdrawal agreement, the next Tory leader - if they're a hardline Brexiteer - will push for a hard Brexit. I for one am not prepared to let that happen."

If Mrs May's deal is not approved this week, MPs are likely to resume discussions about some of the options rejected through the indicative voting process.

Of the options voted on on Wednesday, the ones with the most supporters were Margaret Beckett's proposal for a confirmatory referendum, which was defeated by 27 votes and Ken Clarke's proposal for a customs union, which lost by eight votes.


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