Brexit: May calls on MPs to ‘hold their nerve’ on deal
‘By getting changes we need to the backstop... we can reach a deal this House can support’
Addressing the House of Commons a fortnight after MPs voted for her to go back to Brussels and replace the backstop, Mrs May acknowledged that she would need “some time” to hold talks with the EU. The backstop would ensure there was no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.
She said that a planned House of Commons debate on Thursday will be on an amendable motion reaffirming the House’s decision on January 29th that it supported the government’s efforts to find an alternative for the backstop and recognising that talks are ongoing.
Mrs May pledged to return to parliament on February 26th, if no deal has been secured before that time, to report back on progress and trigger a further MPs’ vote the following day.
“We now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this house requires and deliver Brexit on time,” Mrs May told the House of Commons.
“By getting the changes we need to the backstop; by protecting and enhancing workers’ rights and environmental protections; and by enhancing the role of Parliament in the next phase of negotiations I believe we can reach a deal that this House can support.
“We can deliver for the people and the communities that voted for change two-and-a-half years ago — and whose voices for too long have not been heard.
“We can honour the result of the referendum.
“And we can set this country on course for the bright future that every part of this United Kingdom deserves.
“That is this Government’s mission. We shall not stint in our efforts to fulfil it.”
Running down the clock
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the prime minister of “running down the clock” in the hope that MPs will be “blackmailed” by the fear of a no-deal Brexit into supporting “a deeply flawed deal”.
“This is an irresponsible act,” said Mr Corbyn. “She is playing for time and playing with people’s jobs, our economic security and the future of our industry.”
Mr Corbyn accused Mrs May of refusing to listen to his alternative deal, involving permanent customs union membership, a close alignment with the single market and matching EU workplace and environmental protections.
“I urge all members across this House to think about the damage the Prime Minister’s strategy is doing — the threat to industry and skilled jobs in communities across Britain,” he said.
“Now is not the time to stand idly by, now is the time to stand up and do the right thing: to rule out no deal and back Labour’s alternative plan.”
Earlier the leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom said MPs should not be “purist” about how Mrs May secures changes to the Brexit backstop arrangement.
The United Kingdom is on course to leave the European Union on March 29th without a deal unless May can convince it to amend the deal she agreed in November.
Ms Leadsom, said MPs would back May’s deal if there were assurances the backstop was time-limited or the UK was allowed to leave it unilaterally, suggesting the deal itself did not need to be renegotiated.
“The point is to ensure the UK cannot be held in a backstop permanently, how it’s achieved is not something to be purist about,” Ms Leadsom told BBC radio.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Monday the EU would agree to tweak the political declaration on EU-UK ties after Brexit that forms part of the package, to reflect a plan for a closer future relationship that could obviate the need for the contentious backstop.
“It’s clear from our side that we are not going to reopen the withdrawal agreement but we will continue our discussion in the coming days,” Barnier said.
Running down the clock?
The British parliament is set to hold a debate on Brexit on February 14th but with just 45 days until Britain leaves the bloc, no date has yet been set for another “meaningful” vote on Mrs May’s deal.
Ms Leadsom said another vote would be held once the issue around the Irish backstop had been resolved.
“It’s not running down the clock. The meaningful vote will come back just as soon as it possibly can,” the leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, told BBC radio.
She added necessary legislation needed to ensure a smooth Brexit would be in place, amid fears parliament was running out of time to approve it.