May’s Brexit deal faces defeat despite EU assurances
Prime minister admits letter from Juncker and Tusk does not address MPs’ concerns
Theresa May’s Brexit deal faces a heavy defeat in the House of Commons on Tuesday after fresh assurances about the Northern Ireland backstop failed to win over Conservative Brexiteers and the DUP. The prime minister acknowledged that a letter from Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk did not go far enough to address MPs’ concerns about the backstop.
The letter restated the EU’s commitment to avoid triggering the backstop if possible and ensuring that it should be temporary. But it made clear there could be no change to the legal text of the withdrawal agreement and that Britain would not be able to withdraw unilaterally from the backstop.
“I fully understand that these new assurances still will not go as far as some would like,” Mrs May told the House of Commons on Monday.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the prime minister had failed to secure the legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement required for his party’s support. And most hardline Conservative Brexiteers remained determined to vote against the deal, along with Labour and other opposition parties.
In a statement after Tuesday night’s vote, Mrs May is expected to say she will return to Brussels to seek further concessions on the backstop. But she is under mounting pressure to rule out leaving the EU without a deal on March 29th as a cross-party group of MPs is seeking to take control of the Brexit process by allowing parliament to tell the government how to proceed.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said a defeat for Mrs May’s deal should lead to a general election and he is expected to table a motion of no confidence in the government within hours of the vote. But the prime minister urged MPs to give her deal a second look before rejecting it and to consider history’s verdict.
“No, it is not perfect. And, yes, it is a compromise. But when the history books are written, people will look at the decision of this House tomorrow and ask: Did we deliver on the country’s vote to leave the European Union? Did we safeguard our economy, our security and our union? Or did we let the British people down?” she said.
In Dublin, the Cabinet will on Tuesday receive four memorandums on Brexit-related issues for discussion at Tuesday morning’s meeting in Government Buildings. Specific updates on medicines and transport issues will be given to Ministers, while the Cabinet will also be briefed on bilateral discussions with the British government on the Common Travel Area between the two countries and on the preparation of Brexit legislation to be enacted before the end of March.
Speaking to journalists at a Fine Gael party meeting in Dublin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said a “no-deal Brexit is unlikely but we need to be prepared for it nonetheless”.
He declined to say if the Government expected pressure from either Brussels or London to soften its hard line on the backstop.
He said that “out of respect for their democracy” he wanted to allow the UK’s parliament to make its decision on Tuesday on the withdrawal agreement.
“I don’t think it’s in Ireland’s interests for me to be interfering in their internal politics,” he said.