May to travel to Brussels again next week for talks with Juncker
Brexiteer, Remainers trade recriminations following vote in House of Commons
Downing Street said Theresa May remained committed to securing changes to the text of the legally-binding withdrawal agreement. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
British prime minister Theresa May will travel to Brussels next week for talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker following MPs’ rejection of her approach to Brexit on Thursday.
Downing Street said on Friday that the prime minister remained committed to securing changes to the text of the legally-binding withdrawal agreement that includes the Northern Ireland backstop.
Sixty-six Conservative MPs, including 57 Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, abstained in Thursday’s vote and five voted against the government. The vote exposed deep divisions within the party and Brexiteers and Remainers traded recriminations afterwards.
Remainers described the ERG as “a party within a party” that was bent on leaving the European Union without a deal on March 29th. Foreign office minister Alistair Burt hinted on Friday that he would resign from the government if necessary to vote later this month to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
“If my colleagues cannot accept a necessary compromise, or if government does not itself move to prevent no deal, then I expect parliament to do so, as such moves would certainly pass a Commons vote,” he said.
“I will continue to act consistently with the views I have regularly set out.”
Prepared to resign
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve suggested that a dozen ministers, including six members of the cabinet, were prepared to resign if whips would not allow them to vote for a motion that would oblige the prime minister to postpone Brexit rather than leave without a deal.
Britain’s Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay is also due to travel to Brussels next week to meet the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier. But senior EU sources said there was no appetite in the European institutions or among member states to offer any concession on the backstop before MPs vote again on Brexit at the end of this month.
Mr Barnier will meet Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn next week to discuss Labour’s proposal for a permanent customs union and close alignment with the single market. Pro-EU Conservatives hope that Thursday’s defeat will persuade Mrs May to abandon the ERG and seek a consensus with Labour in favour of a softer Brexit.
Senior Labour figures including shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer met government ministers this week and will hold further meetings next week. But Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said the government remained committed to its current approach to Brexit and would not rule out leaving the EU without a deal.
“The government does not want no-deal, but it is there because that is the legal default position, and any competent government must prepare for all eventualities,” she told the BBC.