Brexit reversal for May after House of Commons defeat

Pro-European Tories join opposition to pass motion for greater say over EU exit

UK prime minister Theresa May vows to honour the Good Friday Agreement as MPs debate the proposed Brexit agreement. Video: UK Parliament TV

British prime minister Theresa May has warned MPs that rejecting the Northern Ireland backstop meant leaving the European Union without a deal, as her government suffered two humiliating defeats and opponents of Brexit received a double boost.

MPs found the government in contempt of parliament for failing to publish the cabinet’s full legal advice on the Brexit deal when the DUP joined Labour to demand its publication. And pro-European Conservatives joined the opposition to approve an amendment that will give MPs a say in what the government does if Mrs May’s deal is rejected next week.

Second referendum

That vote could see MPs telling the government to reject a no-deal Brexit, pursue a close, Norway-style relationship with the European Union or hold a second referendum.

Earlier, the advocate general of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) published a legal opinion arguing that Britain could unilaterally halt Brexit by revoking its notice to leave the EU under article 50.


Opening five days of debate ahead of a “meaningful vote” on her Brexit deal, Mrs May said rejecting it could lead to no deal or no Brexit. And she told MPs that there was no way around the backstop if Britain wanted any kind of deal with the EU.

“Whether you want a model like Canada’s or whether you want to see the UK as a member of the European Economic Area – any future relationship will need to be negotiated and will need an insurance policy if that negotiation cannot be completed in time. Put simply, there is no possible Withdrawal Agreement without a legally operative backstop. No backstop means no deal,” she said.

Healing the divisions

Dozens of Conservative MPs and the DUP’s 10 MPs have said they will vote against the prime minister’s deal, but she said it represented the best way of healing the divisions Brexit has created in British society.

“Don’t let anyone here think that there is a better deal to be won by shouting louder. And do not imagine that if we vote this down, a different deal is going to miraculously appear. The alternative is uncertainty and risk.

“The risk Brexit could be stopped. The risk we could crash out with no deal. The only certainty would be uncertainty: bad for our economy and bad for our standing in the world,” she said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times