Hope for May’s deal diminishes ahead of European elections
Withdrawl Agreement Bill not listed for debate in House of Commons next week
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said UK prime minister Theresa May has brought no new ideas to the table in talks to try and agree a joint Brexit approach. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/Getty
Hopes that MPs will approve Theresa May’s Brexit deal before next month’s European Parliament elections receded further on Thursday when the British prime minister appeared to abandon a plan to introduce a Withdrawal Agreement Bill next week. The bill, which must be passed for Britain to leave the EU, is not listed for debate in the House of Commons next week.
The prime minister’s spokeswoman said on Thursday that the government wanted to introduce the bill “as soon as possible” but added that “we need the House to support it”. Negotiations with Labour over a joint approach to Brexit continued this week but there is little sign of progress, with the government blaming the opposition for dragging its feet while Jeremy Corbyn says the prime minister has offered no new ideas.
Speaker John Bercow has ruled that the government cannot bring an unchanged withdrawal agreement back to the Commons for another “meaningful vote”, which is required under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. But if the government wins a majority for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, it could seek to amend it so that a further meaningful vote on the deal would be unnecessary.
Downing Street on Thursday dismissed a report that the government could bring the withdrawal agreement back to parliament with the Northern Ireland backstop stripped out.
“In order to ratify the withdrawal agreement – which is what’s necessary for us to leave the EU – then obviously the government would have to secure the whole of the withdrawal agreement with the EU,” the prime minister’s spokesman said.
“It was set out at the most recent European Council that the EU’s established position was that they wouldn’t reopen the withdrawal agreement.”
Brexit party lead
When EU leaders agreed this month to extend Britain’s membership of the union until October 31st, they said “there can be no opening of the withdrawal agreement, and . . . any unilateral commitment, statement or other act should be compatible with the letter and the spirit of the withdrawal agreement and must not hamper its implementation”.
Whitehall sources suggested on Thursday that although the government would prefer to avoid contesting the European Parliament elections on May 23rd, there would be another major deadline at the end of June, just before the new MEPs are due to take their seats. Opinion polls point to a rout for the Conservatives in next month’s elections, with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in the lead, followed by Labour.
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, a likely contender to succeed Mrs May, said on Thursday that although he backed Remain in 2016 he would prefer a no deal Brexit to not leaving the EU at all. “As far as Brexit is concerned, my view is very straightforward. We have to leave, we have to leave quickly, we have to leave cleanly,” he told political journalists at Westminster.
“If there was a binary choice between no deal or no Brexit I would choose no deal because I believe the democratic risk of no Brexit ultimately is higher than the economic risk of no deal.”