Brexit: May says vote on withdrawal deal will ‘definitely’ go ahead

Prime minister says opponents risk damaging economy and trust in democracy

British prime minister Theresa May says a second Brexit referendum would "divide the country" and it could not be held before March 29th. Video: BBC's Andrew Marr Show


British prime minister Theresa May said on Sunday Britain would be in uncharted territory if her Brexit deal is rejected by parliament later this month, despite little sign that she has won over sceptical lawmakers.

Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29th but Mrs May’s inability so far to get her deal for a managed exit through parliament has alarmed business leaders and investors who fear the country is heading for an damaging no-deal Brexit.

Mrs May said the vote in parliament would take place around January 15th, despite newspaper reports she could delay it. Mrs May has already delayed the vote once, in December, when it became clear she would lose unless extra reassurances from the EU were agreed.

Describing what would happen if she was defeated, Mrs May told the BBC: “We’re going to be in uncharted territory. I don’t think anybody can say exactly what will happen in terms of the reaction we’ll see in parliament.”

The prime minister, who is still seeking further guarantees from Brussels in an effort to win over critics ahead of the vote warned Brexiteers they risked derailing the UK’s departure from the European Union if they did not back her deal.

And she again rejected calls for a second referendum, saying it would be disrespectful to people who voted for Brexit in 2016.

As MPs prepare to return to Westminster with the crunch Commons vote looming on the Withdrawal Agreement thrashed out with Brussels, the Prime Minister said no alternative plan was able to respect the 2016 referendum result, protect jobs and provide certainty to citizens and businesses.


Mrs May promised further measures specific to Northern Ireland and a greater role for parliament, and said “we are still working on” getting extra assurances from Brussels as part of her drive to secure support for the deal.

She repeatedly sidestepped questions about whether she would keep putting the deal back to MPs if it gets rejected, instead saying: “If the deal is not voted on, this vote that is coming up, then actually we are going to be in uncharted territory.

“I don’t think anybody can say exactly what will happen in terms of the reaction we will see in Parliament.” She said Labour was “playing politics” and opposing any deal to create “the greatest chaos” possible.

“We have got people who are promoting a second referendum in order to stop Brexit, and we have got people who want to see their perfect Brexit. I would say don’t let the search for the perfect become the enemy of the good because the danger there is that we end up with no Brexit at all.”

On her own future, Mrs May refused to put a timescale on her departure. “I was clear before Christmas with my colleagues on two things: one, I’m not going to call a snap election and secondly that I’m not going to be leading the party into the 2022 general election.

One of those leading the Conservative Brexiteers, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said in a newspaper article it was “wishful thinking” that time away from parliament over the Christmas holiday could persuade him to change his mind and back the deal.


The prime minister said that the British “genius for pragmatism” had always found a way forward which commands consensus at “moments of profound challenge” such as this.

Speaking to reporters in Los Angeles, Britain’s International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said: “Parliament needs to understand that if we’re not able to come to Parliament and get a deal, then we may end up leaving the EU with no deal.

“Most people seem to say that’s not what they want to see, well they better make up their minds before we get to a week on Tuesday because that’s going to be a very key decision-making point.”

In a Mail on Sunday article, Mrs May said Labour’s approach under Jeremy Corbyn had been based on a “cynical tissue of incoherence, designed to avoid difficult decisions”.

The prime minister was forced to postpone a vote on her plans in December after it became clear the deal would be rejected by MPs.

With Tory rebels and her DUP allies expected to oppose it, the prime minister hopes to win round some Labour MPs alarmed at the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

“MPs of every party will face the same question when the division bell rings,” Mrs May said.

“It is a question of profound significance for our democracy and for our constituents.

“The only way to both honour the result of the referendum and protect jobs and security is by backing the deal that is on the table.” - Agencies

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