Friday 15 February 2019

Brexit vote begins: Theresa May heading for one of heaviest UK Parliamentary defeats in modern history

  • Last-gasp appeal to rebels set to fail
  • MPs vote against amendment which sought to give the UK right to terminate Irish border backstop without agreement of EU
Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at the conclusion of the debate ahead of a vote on her Brexit deal in the House of Commons, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday January 15, 2019. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: House of Commons/PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at the conclusion of the debate ahead of a vote on her Brexit deal in the House of Commons, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday January 15, 2019. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: House of Commons/PA Wire
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves Downing Street in London, Britain, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Gavin Cordon and Andrew Woodcock

British Prime Minister Theresa May appears to be heading for one of the heaviest UK Parliamentary defeats in modern history after a last-gasp appeal to Tory rebels over her Brexit deal fell on deaf ears.

Mrs May urged lawmakers to back her deal on Tuesday, saying it was a historic decision that the country would live with for generations.

"The responsibility on each and every one of us at this moment is profound, for this is a historic decision that will set the future of our country for generations," May said ahead of the vote.

She said that the government had to do more to work with parliament on a way forward on Brexit but that it would not support an amendment to put a time-limit on the thorny issue of a backstop arrangement on the Irish border.

Effigies of Prime Minister Theresa May, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, current Environment Secretary Michael Gove and former Brexit secretary David Davis, are driven past the Houses of Parliament, London, ahead of the House of Commons vote on the Prime Minister's Brexit deal. Yui Mok/PA Wire
Effigies of Prime Minister Theresa May, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, current Environment Secretary Michael Gove and former Brexit secretary David Davis, are driven past the Houses of Parliament, London, ahead of the House of Commons vote on the Prime Minister's Brexit deal. Yui Mok/PA Wire

More than 100 of her MPs - around a third of those who sit on the green benches for the Conservatives - are thought to oppose the Prime Minister's Withdrawal Agreement ahead of tonight's meaningful vote.

Mrs May made clear she would not back away from Brexit in response, telling her Cabinet the British Government is "the servant of the people" and must deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum in which voters opted to Leave by 52-48pc.

She told colleagues at the weekly meeting in 10 Downing Street that she will respond "quickly" if her deal is rejected by MPs.

With just hours to go, there seems little sign that opponents within her party - let alone her parliamentary foes - will swing behind the deal hammered out with Brussels when they enter the voting lobbies.

'People's Vote' supporters dance and listen to speeches during a demonstration in Parliament Square on January 15, 2019 in London, England.
(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
'People's Vote' supporters dance and listen to speeches during a demonstration in Parliament Square on January 15, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
British MPs pack the chamber at the conclusion of the debate ahead of a vote on the UK Prime Minister's Brexit deal in the House of Commons, London Photo credit: House of Commons/PA Wire
Britain's opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn attends the debate in Parliament ahead of the vote on British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS
Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at the conclusion of the debate ahead of a vote on her Brexit deal in the House of Commons Photo credit: House of Commons/PA Wire
Caricatures of Conservative politicians are driven past the Houses of Parliament on January 15, 2019 in London (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament on January 15, 2019 in London, England (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
A placard with Chairman of the European Research Group Jacob Rees-Mogg's face (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Protesters demonstrate on the day that MP's vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal, in Parliament Square (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Pro-Brexit protesters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Prime Minister Theresa May is congratulated by a Conservative MP at the conclusion of the debate ahead of a vote on her Brexit deal Photo credit: House of Commons/PA Wire
Britain's Attorney General Geoffrey Cox addresses Parliament ahead of the vote on May's Brexit deal UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn listens at the conclusion of the debate ahead of a vote on the Prime Minister's Brexit deal in the House of Commons Photo credit: House of Commons/PA Wire
British Prime Minister Theresa May is seen in Parliament ahead of the vote on May's Brexit deal, in London UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford speaks at the conclusion of the debate ahead of a vote on the Prime Minister's Brexit deal Photo credit: House of Commons/PA Wire
Sir Edward Leigh MP asks a question about his amendment at the conclusion of the debate ahead of a vote on the Prime Minister's Brexit deal in the House of Commons Photo credit: House of Commons/PA Wire
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow speaks at the conclusion of the debate ahead of a vote on the Prime Minister's Brexit deal Photo credit: House of Commons/PA Wire
John Baron MP begs to move his amendment at the conclusion of the debate ahead of a vote on the Prime Minister's Brexit deal Photo credit: House of Commons/PA Wire

Environment Secretary Michael Gove would not predict a win for Mrs May, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he did not know how the vote would go.

He reiterated the warning made by several ministers that remaining in the EU was worse than leaving without a deal and suggested there were "people in the House of Commons and outside who have never made their peace with this decision" to leave.

He also defended the Northern Ireland border backstop, the most divisive part of the deal, saying it was "deeply uncomfortable for the EU".

He continued: "If it is a trap for anyone, it's a trap for the EU. Why? Because the European Union said at the very beginning of this process that there would be no cherry-picking, the four freedoms of the single market were indivisible.

"But we have picked a whole bowl of glistening cherries, we have free access to the European market with no tariffs and no quotas but at the same time we say that European citizens have no freedom of movement."

The Prime Minister has insisted she is focused on winning the vote - telling Conservative rebels on Monday evening that they risked handing the keys of No 10 to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

However the Daily Telegraph quoted one Cabinet source as saying it would be "hard for her to carry on" if she lost by more than 100 votes.

The deal suffered its first official parliamentary defeat in the House of Lords on Monday night as peers voted by 321 votes to 152 - a majority of 169 - to reject it.

Mr Corbyn indicated he was finally ready to table a vote of no-confidence in the UK government if it loses in the House of Commons.

"Don't be concerned, it's coming soon," he told a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer offered no more clarity on Tuesday morning, telling the Today show: "The timing will be down to Jeremy Corbyn but he has already indicated that it will be soon."

It would appear unlikely that Labour can muster enough votes to force a general election, with both Tory rebels and the DUP indicating they would continue to back the Government in a confidence vote.

However Downing Street has given little indication as to how the Prime Minister intends to proceed if she is defeated.

Under the terms of an amendment passed last week, she must table a motion on her Plan B by Monday - although in practice she is unlikely to want to wait that long.

Some reports have suggested she could fly to Brussels - possibly as early as Wednesday - in an attempt to obtain further concessions on the crucial issue of the backstop.

But that could prove problematic if she has suffered a massive defeat, with EU leaders reluctant to give ground if they believe it is simply impossible for her to get the deal through the Commons.

Alternatively, she could opt to bring back the deal for a second - or possibly even a third - time in an attempt to wear down the opposition.

Some MPs claimed to have detected some movement towards her position after she addressed a private meeting of Conservatives MPs at Westminster on Monday evening.

So far, however, the numbers contemplating backing the deal would appear to fall far short of what is needed to affect the final outcome.

Dominic Raab said Brexiteers like him could back a deal if aspects such as the backstop were dealt with.

The former Brexit secretary told Today: "I made clear when I resigned that there were three aspects that needed to be addressed.

"The backstop is clearly one of them and I want to see very clearly the Withdrawal Agreement linked to a best-in-class free trade agreement.

"If we could do those two things, someone like me would say that, actually, we could vote for it."

Mrs May will make her final appeal when she winds up five days of debate in the Commons before MPs head to the division lobbies.

Voting is due to begin at 7pm and could continue for around two hours, depending on how many amendments Speaker John Bercow calls before the final meaningful vote on the deal.

Labour MP Hilary Benn has pulled his amendment to the Government's Withdrawal Agreement motion which would have rejected both the PM's deal and leaving the EU with no deal.

Mr Benn, who is chairman of the Commons Exiting the European Union Committee, had Tory support for his proposal but tweeted that he had decided to act because "it's vital that we now get the clearest expression of view from the House on the Government's deal".

Press Association

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