Brexit: House of Commons to vote on withdrawal agreement
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds says a softer Brexit is now a possible outcome
Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom announced the House of Commons intends to table a motion for a debate on the UK’s withdrawal from EU on Friday. Photograph: Getty Images
The House of Commons is to vote on Friday on the Brexit withdrawal agreement after speaker of the house John Bercow gave it clearance.
The motion will not count as a third attempt to pass a “meaningful vote” on prime minister Theresa May’s deal, because it will not cover the future relationship with Europe.
Mr Bercow cleared the motion for debate, ruling that it complies with parliamentary conventions which bar ministers from asking MPs to vote repeatedly on the same proposals.
If passed by MPs on Friday, the vote would qualify the UK to be granted an automatic delay to May 22nd of the formal date of Brexit.
The government’s move will allow Mrs May to present it as a choice between a short delay to Brexit and the potential for a much longer postponement which would mean taking part in European elections.
But it would not allow parliament to go ahead and ratify the withdrawal deal, as Brexit legislation allows this only after the passage of a “meaningful vote” on both the withdrawal agreement and a political declaration on the future relationship.
Moving the motion to enable the debate to take place on March 29th – initially intended to be Brexit day – the leader of the commons Andrea Leadsom urged MPs to back the deal “so that we can leave the EU in an orderly way that gives businesses and people the certainty that they need”.
Labour has already declared that it will not back the government in Friday’s vote, warning that it risked “the blindest of all blind Brexits”.
Downing Street has said that Mrs May will not move to a third meaningful vote – known in Westminster as MV3 – unless she believes she has a realistic chance of success, having seen it defeated by 230 votes in January and 149 in March.
But it is understood that number 10 believes that passing the withdrawal agreement alone would allow the UK to guarantee its departure date and avoid the need for Britain to take part in European Parliament elections on May 23rd-26th.
This would buy time to seek wider agreement among MPs on the shape of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, in the hope of passing MV3 in April and leaving with a deal on May 22nd.
Significant doubts remain over whether Mrs May can secure a majority for the withdrawal agreement alone on Friday.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his MPs would not back the move, claiming it would result in a “blindfold” Brexit with no indication of the future arrangements sought with Brussels.
He stressed that he wanted to ensure an economic relationship which protects consumer, environmental and workers’ rights “and does not lead us into the direction of turning this country into some kind of low-tax, offshore, deregulated economy, opening ourselves up to American trade arrangements”.
If the motion fails, the UK will have until April 12th to ask for a further extension to Brexit negotiations – which would require voters to choose new MEPs – or leave the EU without a deal.
DUP has ‘no talks planned’ with May
The DUP, which has been propping up Mrs May, has not been in negotiations with her government on Thursday and no further Brexit talks are planned, a spokesman for the party said.
In a serious blow for Mrs May, the DUP announced on Wednesday it would not support her Brexit divorce deal.
“We have not been engaging in negotiations today and there are no talks planned,” a spokesman said on Thursday. The DUP indicated on Wednesday that they were not willing to back the deal because of its controversial “backstop” provisions for the Border.
However, on Thursday night DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said a Brexit outcome that keeps the UK more closely aligned to the EU is now a possibility.
“From our point of view, the concern and priority for us and Northern Ireland isn’t necessarily the form of Brexit,” Mr Dodds told BBC Northern Ireland.
“It’s making sure that whatever form of Brexit we have, that those trade barriers between ourselves and our main market in the rest of the United Kingdom, the constitutional issues, that those are protected, and we will be seeking a stronger role in the second stage [of talks] to avoid some of the problems we have faced in the first stage.”
The support of the DUP for the existing deal had been seen as crucial, both in making up the numbers for the vote and in winning over Tory waverers.
With a hardcore of Tory Eurosceptics also holding out against the deal, the government appears not to have the numbers in the Commons to be sure of victory.
Downing Street has previously indicated that a third “meaningful vote” would only be attempted if Mrs May felt there was a credible chance of success, after its defeat by 230 votes in January and 149 in March. – PA and Reuters