May pledges to reopen Brexit deal after victory in key vote
PM wants to secure ‘legally binding changes’ to withdrawal agreement
Theresa May has promised to seek legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement after MPs voted to support her Brexit deal if she secures changes to the Northern Ireland backstop. At the end of a dramatic day at Westminster, MPs endorsed the proposal by 317 votes to 301, a majority of 16.
The DUP’s 10 MPs joined Conservative Brexiteers to support the amendment after Mrs May said she would seek to reopen the text of the agreement. It was a striking reversal of fortune for Mrs May, who saw her Brexit deal rejected by 230 votes two weeks ago.
“We will now take this mandate forward and seek to obtain legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement that deal with concerns on the backstop while guaranteeing no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. My colleagues and I will talk to the EU about how we address the House’s views,” she said.
“There is limited appetite for such a change in the EU and negotiating it will not be easy. But in contrast to a fortnight ago, this House has made it clear what it needs to approve a withdrawal agreement.”
In a further boost for the PM, MPs rejected an amendment that could have postponed Brexit rather than leaving the EU without a deal. They backed another amendment that rejected a no-deal Brexit without prescribing any action to prevent it.
In Dublin, the Government issued a terse statement: “The EU position on the withdrawal agreement, including the backstop, is set out in the conclusions of the December meeting of the European Council. It has not changed.”
It said that the administration would “continue our preparations for all outcomes, including for a no-deal scenario.”
But Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee expressed frustration at the House of Commons votes and Mrs May’s promise to MPs to reopen the withdrawal agreement.
“It’s exasperating at this stage,” she said. “This is a deal negotiated with the UK, signed off by the UK and their prime minister. Now it looks like this evening that there’s row-back and a reneging on the commitments that have been made.”
‘Best and only way’
European Council President Donald Tusk said the withdrawal agreement “remains the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal”. In a statement issued on his behalf, Tusk said: “The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement, and the withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation.”
Privately senior government sources in Dublin last night adopted a wait-and-see attitude, expecting the British government to spell out what its alternative to the backstop is, but with little expectation that it would. The Government said last night that it expected a phone call between the Taoiseach and Mrs May this morning.
Earlier, the Department of Finance said the economy will grow at a much slower pace than anticipated but will not tip into recession in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Projections published by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe also show the unemployment rate could rise by 2 per cent if Britain leaves the EU without a deal at the end of March.