Theresa May faces crucial 48 hours as MPs threaten to defeat her Brexit plan

British PM speaks to Leo Varadkar by phone ahead of vote in the House of Commons

Boris Johnson refused to rule out standing against Theresa May after Tuesday's vote on her Brexit deal. Video: BBC/ The Andrew Marr Show

 

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May faces a defining 48 hours for her Brexit plans as MPs threaten a huge defeat for the embattled Conservative leader if her deal with the EU is voted on in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Ms May spoke to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar by telephone on Sunday at her request, but Government Buildings was tight-lipped about the details of the call, issuing only a short statement afterwards.

“They discussed the current situation on Brexit, including the planned vote in Westminster on Tuesday,” it said. “They also discussed preparation for this week’s European Council and looked forward to seeing each other in Brussels on Thursday.”

Speaking after the call, one senior source said that there was absolutely no change to the Irish position on the treaty. “Everything is exactly as it was before,” the source said.

Comfort

Senior Irish Government sources insist they would consider a statement from EU leaders to give some comfort to Ms May if she sought one at this week’s summit, but categorically ruled out reopening the withdrawal treaty.

Irish officials are emphatic that Dublin will not accept any reopening of the negotiations on the treaty and there has been no sign that other EU countries would seek to pressure Ireland to do so.

Ms May also telephoned European Council president Donald Tusk, who chairs the group of EU heads of government. He later tweeted that it would be “an important week for the fate of Brexit”.

The withdrawal treaty provisions on the Irish backstop – a guarantee that no hard border will return in Ireland, irrespective of the future trade deal between the EU and the UK – continue to arouse fierce opposition in London, with many Tory MPs warning the UK could be compelled to remain under EU rules indefinitely.

On Sunday, leading Brexiteer Boris Johnson said Ms May should demand that the UK should be able to unilaterally end the backstop.

Changes

Reports in London suggested that Ms May was preparing to call off tomorrow’s House of Commons vote and would instead fly to Brussels to seek to persuade EU leaders to make changes to the agreement. However, her Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay yesterday ruled out that option, saying it would go ahead “because it’s a good deal and it’s the only deal”.

EU leaders have repeatedly said that after two years of negotiation, this is the only deal on offer.

As many as 100 Tory MPs are said to be preparing to vote against Ms May’s deal. In a febrile atmosphere in Westminster, Tory MPs were warned Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could be prime minister by Christmas if the deal was defeated.

Some media reports said Ms May would immediately call a confidence vote if her proposals are defeated, and the parliament would sit over Christmas. Others said several more ministerial resignations were likely this week.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Simon Coveney will also be in Brussels on Monday to attend a meeting of fellow EU foreign affairs ministers. Though Brexit is not on the formal agenda for the meeting, it is likely that ministers will discuss the situation in London, and future contingencies, on the margins of the meeting.

EU leaders will meet for their end-of-year summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

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