May tells MPs Brexit agreement ‘a good deal for Britain’
Prime minister faced hostile reception in Commons as deal called ‘26 pages of waffle’
Prime Minister Theresa May speaking in the House of Commons about Brexit, November 22nd. Photograph: PA Wire
Theresa May faced a hostile reception in the House of Commons on Thursday following the publication of the political declaration on the relationship between Britain and the European Union after Brexit.
Brexiteer Conservatives and the DUP demanded that the Northern Ireland backstop should be dropped while pro-Europeans called for a second referendum.
The prime minister said the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration represented a good deal for Britain, holding out the prospect of a unique relationship with the EU.
“The British people want Brexit to be settled. They want a good deal that sets us on a course for a brighter future. And they want us to come together as a country and to move on to focus on the big issues at home, like our NHS [National Health Service]. The deal that will enable us to do this is now within our grasp,” she said.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described the political declaration as “26 pages of waffle” that could have been written two years ago. He said the only certainty contained within it was that the post-Brexit transition period would have to be extended or Britain would end up with a backstop and no exit.
“It represents the worst of all worlds: no say over the rules that will continue to apply and no certainty for the future. There is no change to the withdrawal agreement, no unilateral pull-out mechanism, no concessions on the backstop, which would create a new regulatory border down the Irish Sea,” he said.
Mrs May pointed to the document’s commitment to consider “facilitative arrangements and technologies” to keep the Irish Border open. She had hoped to win over eurosceptics such as former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith with the prospect of an alternative to the backstop. But Mr Duncan Smith said he was still unable to support the deal.
“The reality is that this is not the withdrawal agreement, and the withdrawal agreement will make it very clear that should we, even under these terms, struggle with a negotiation for a free trade arrangement and not complete that process, we will fall into the Northern Ireland backstop as it exists at the moment. That means that we will be bound by those restrictions that force Northern Ireland into a separate arrangement and us into the customs union,” he said.
DUP chief whip Jeffrey Donaldson said the backstop would be bad for the British economy as well as for the union and he called on the prime minister to press the EU to abandon it if she wanted his party’s support for the deal.
“It is now clear that the EU is beginning to accept that there are alternative arrangements that can be put in place without the need for the backstop. I say to the prime minister that if she wants to have the support of my party for the withdrawal agreement, we need to see an end of the backstop and those alternative arrangements put in place,” he said.
Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab spoke against the deal, but it also came under fire from pro-Europeans such as former education secretary Justine Greening.
“I do not believe that this is a good deal for Britain and I do not think that many young people in our country think that this is a good deal for Britain at all. Does the prime minister accept that, if the meaningful vote is lost, and if this House votes also against exiting the EU with no deal, the only right option then is to go back to the people and allow them to have a final say?” she said.