Monday 14 October 2019

Theresa May delays vote on Brexit deal as it was set to be rejected 'by significant margin'

  • Vote called off after emergency conference call with cabinet ministers
  • May informs House of Commons in oral statement this afternoon
  • Varadkar: 'The agreement, including the Irish backstop, is only deal on table'
  • May held crisis talks with EU leaders yesterday
  • ECJ rules that UK can reverse Brexit process
Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after attending a church service near her Maidenhead constituency. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after attending a church service near her Maidenhead constituency. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Gordon Rayner

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was delaying a planned vote in parliament on her Brexit deal as it was set to be rejected "by a significant margin".

"It is clear that while there is broad support for many of the key aspects of the deal, on one issue, the Northern Ireland backstop, there remains widespread and deep concern," May said.

"We will therefore defer the vote schedule for tomorrow and not proceed to divide the house at this time."

"It is the right deal for Britain, I am determined to do all I can to secure the reassurances this House requires to get this deal over the line and deliver for the British people," May told parliament.

"I have listened and I have heard concerns...and I will do everything I can to secure further assurances on the backstop."

Mrs May held an emergency conference call with her cabinet ministers this morning, amid suggestions that she was to delay the meaningful vote in Parliament on her Brexit deal.

A Government source confirmed that the vote was being pulled, with the Prime Minister due to inform the House of Commons in an oral statement at 3.30pm.

The vote was set to be held on Tuesday evening, but the British Prime Minister appeared to be heading for a certain and heavy defeat which could severely damage her position.

The conference call came after the European Court of Justice ruled that Britain can cancel Brexit without getting the permission of other European Union countries, in a decision that could embolden Remain-supporting MPs to vote down Mrs May’s Brexit deal tomorrow.

A spokeswoman for the court said: "The revocation must be decided following a democratic process in accordance with national constitutional requirements. This unequivocal and unconditional decision must be communicated in writing to the European Council."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the only deal on the table is the one including the Irish backstop.

Despite speaking to Mrs May by phone last night, he claimed this afternoon to not be aware of her vote being cancelled.

But Mr Varadkar said: "The Withdrawal Agreement, including the Irish backstop, is the only deal on the table.

"It took over a year and a half to negotiate. It has the support of 28 EU governments, and it's not possible to reopen that aspect of the agreement without reopening all aspects."

He said the purpose of the phonecall was for the Prime Minister "to update me on the progress she is making in trying to secure ratification of the withdrawal agreement".

Amid the chaos, the DUP’s Sammy Wilson said: “The Prime Minister may be prepared to be humiliated by arrogant EU officials and arrogant Irish politicians. But doesn’t she believe that every time she returns to the House with her tail between her legs she humiliates the British people.”

Meanwhile, a senior member of the European Union said that the bloc's assembly "will never let the Irish down".

"I can't follow anymore. After two years of negotiations, the Tory government wants to delay the vote. Just keep in mind that we will never let the Irish down," the European Parliament's Brexit pointman Guy Verhofstadt said.

"This delay will further aggravate the uncertainty for people and businesses. It's time they make up their mind!," he said.

ECJ advocate general Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona said last week that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty allows the "unilateral revocation of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU, until such time as the Withdrawal Agreement is formally concluded".

Theresa May held 11th-hour crisis talks with EU leaders yesterday as she agonised over whether to postpone tomorrow's "doomed" vote on her Brexit deal.

With time running out, the UK prime minister phoned the European Council president to explain that MPs would kill off the deal - and possibly her premiership - unless Brussels could throw her a lifeline.

Last night Mrs May also called Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to discuss the vote and Thursday's summit in Brussels. Mr Varadkar's support is crucial if Mrs May is to win any concessions on the backstop - the biggest obstacle to getting her deal through parliament.

Last night, even her closest allies were still unsure whether she would postpone tomorrow's vote in the hope of winning fresh concessions from EU leaders at a summit in Brussels on Thursday, or press ahead and use her expected defeat to prove to the EU that the deal is dead.

Mrs May has told aides the solution to her dilemma lies with Brussels, having all but accepted that the vote is unwinnable. But one senior minister said Mrs May did not have a clear plan.

However, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay insisted yesterday the vote would "100 pc" go ahead tomorrow, but senior government sources said nothing was set in stone.

Chief whip Julian Smith is understood to be among those now urging Mrs May to put the vote back until at least next week, if not the new year, to buy time on the deadlock.

It came as Labour and the DUP held talks about toppling Mrs May with a no-confidence vote on her leadership, rather than on the government, in the hope they would entice Tory rebels to join them.

Current and former cabinet ministers have advanced their preparations to launch leadership bids if Mrs May is forced out this week, with Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Esther McVey all fuelling speculation about their ambitions to become prime minister in interviews yesterday.

Meanwhile, increasing numbers of cabinet ministers are convinced the UK is heading for a second referendum, with one idea being discussed by them being a public vote between Mrs May's deal and a no-deal Brexit, with no option of remaining in the EU on the ballot paper.

David Lidington, the prime minister's de facto deputy, and David Gauke, the Justice Secretary, are understood to have sounded out Labour MPs to gauge if there is a parliamentary majority for a so-called People's Vote.

Mrs May's phone call with Mr Tusk was revealed in a tweet by the EC president, who said: "It will be an important week for the fate of Brexit." No 10 insisted the call was a "routine" catch-up before Mrs May attended the two-day European Council summit later this week.

However, diplomatic sources suggested Mrs May had used the call to press home to Mr Tusk the fact she could lose her grip on Brexit if she goes ahead with the vote and loses heavily.

One Whitehall source said: "Everyone is just bewildered at the idea that she could possibly go ahead with a vote that she might lose by 200 on current estimates.

"Despite the official line being that the vote will definitely happen, there are still discussions going on in Downing Street about whether it should be postponed, and for how long.

"The chief whip is nervous … He kept telling the PM we could win the vote when it was obvious to everyone we had no chance."

Justice Minister Rory Stewart said it was "overwhelmingly likely" the vote would happen, although he acknowledged that "nothing is beyond any doubt at the moment".

One senior minister said: "The vote is doomed if it goes ahead tomorrow, but if she puts it back to next week she risks being humiliated by the EU when she goes to Brussels on Thursday if they offer her nothing.

"She might be better off putting the vote back to January, but the problem with that is she doesn't have any bright ideas for how to use that time to her advantage." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Additional reporting from Reuters

Irish Independent

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