Brexit: May still short of majority despite promise to quit
DUP says it will not support withdrawal agreement as Commons rejects alternatives
Theresa May has told Conservative MPs she will quit as prime minister soon after her Brexit deal is approved, paving the way for a leadership contest in the summer. But the government remained well short of a majority for the deal last night after the DUP said it would not vote for it.
MPs last night voted on eight alternatives to Mrs May’s deal in a series of votes but none won a majority. They will continue the indicative voting process next Monday in an effort to identify an option that can secure majority support.
The most popular option was for Britain to remain in a customs union with the EU, which was defeated by 272 votes to 264. A total of 268 MPs voted to put any Brexit deal parliament approves to a confirmatory referendum with 295 voting against.
Mrs May made her announcement to a meeting of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, urging them to back her deal.
“I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party. I ask everyone in this room to back the deal so we can complete our historic duty – to deliver on the decision of the British people and leave the European Union with a smooth and orderly exit,” she said.
Although she did not specify a date, Mrs May is expected to announce her resignation around May 22nd, when Britain will leave the EU if her deal is approved this week. This would allow a Conservative leadership contest to run during the summer, with MPs choosing two candidates to go before the entire party membership in a final ballot.
Twenty Conservative MPs who voted against the Brexit deal on March 12th have changed sides, including Boris Johnson who said last night that he will now back the deal. Jacob Rees-Mogg said he was also ready to vote for the deal if the DUP did not oppose it.
“If the DUP abstained, I would feel entitled to back it. I think if the DUP was against it, I would not feel able to back it,” he said.
In a statement last night, however, the DUP said it could not support Mrs May’s deal despite “good discussions” with the government in recent days.
“However, given the fact that the necessary changes we seek to the backstop have not been secured between the Government and the European Union, and the remaining and ongoing strategic risk that Northern Ireland would be trapped in backstop arrangements at the end of the implementation period, we will not be supporting the Government if they table a fresh meaningful vote,” the party said.
“The backstop if operational has the potential to create an internal trade border within the United Kingdom and would cut us off from our main internal market, being Great Britain. We want to secure the United Kingdom’s departure from, and our future relationship with, the European Union on terms that accord with our key objectives to ensure the integrity of the United Kingdom.”
MPs last night approved a statutory instrument to change the date of Britain’s withdrawal from tomorrow, March 29th. The EU agreed last week that Britain could remain in the EU until May 22nd if the withdrawal agreement is passed this week. Otherwise, Britain must leave on April 12th unless it agrees to take part in European Parliament elections in May to secure a longer extension.