Theresa May prepares for crucial vote in House of Commons on Tuesday
Leo Varadkar hosts Michel Barnier at private pre-match dinner in Dublin
Michel Barnier at the Six Nations rugby match between Ireland and France at the Aviva. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty
British prime minister Theresa May was preparing on Sunday night to make a last-minute trip to Brussels in an effort to save her Brexit deal ahead of a crucial vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
But as an RAF aircraft stood by at Northolt air base on Sunday, there was no sign of progress in negotiations between British and EU officials. Senior Government sources in Dublin said on Sunday they are not expecting a breakthrough and officials are pessimistic that a deal will be struck this week.
Cabinet will meet a day earlier than normal, on Monday morning, due to ministerial travel engagements for St Patrick’s Day. Ministers will receive an update on the no-deal Brexit legislation making its way through the Oireachtas and will discuss any overnight developments from Brussels.
British MPs have dismissed as inadequate an offer by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier to give legal force to assurances about the Northern Ireland backstop. DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, whose support for the deal is viewed in Westminster as crucial, said its defeat on Tuesday now seemed inevitable.
“An unchanged withdrawal agreement will be defeated firmly by a sizeable proportion of Conservatives and the DUP if it is again presented to the Commons,” he wrote in the Sunday Telegraph in a joint article with Conservative Brexiteer Steve Baker.
“If with the DUP just half of previous Conservative opponents vote against the deal, a three-figure majority would be expected.”
If the deal is rejected on Tuesday, MPs will vote on Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal on March 29th, and on Thursday on whether to seek an extension to the article 50 negotiating deadline. Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt warned Brexiteers on Sunday that by voting against Mrs May’s deal, they risked losing Brexit altogether.
“We have an opportunity now to leave on March 29th or shortly thereafter. It’s very important we grasp that opportunity because there is wind in the sails of people trying to stop Brexit,” he told the BBC.
“If you want to stop Brexit, you only need to do three things – kill this deal, get an extension and then have a second referendum. Within three weeks those people could have two of those three things. Quite possibly the third one could be on the way through the Labour Party. So we are in very perilous waters,” he said.
Meanwhile, Minister for Business Heather Humphreys said the Government is open to any request from the British government for an extension to the article 50 deadline.
“We have the withdrawal agreement and that took 18 months to put together. We do believe that this is the best option in terms of Brexit, and there is nothing particularly good about Brexit but nevertheless we fully support the withdrawal agreement,” Ms Humphreys said.
“In terms of any extension that is required, or requested by the UK government, we certainly remain open to looking at that along with our EU partners,” she said.
On Saturday night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar hosted Mr Barnier, who was in Dublin for the rugby match between Ireland and France, at a private dinner where Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee and their partners were also present. “It was an informal social occasion. There was some discussion about Brexit and an update was given on talks. Some ideas were exchanged, and opinions on where to go next. There were no final decisions made at the meeting,” a Government source said.