Brexit deal still in limbo as May refuses to name new vote date

The UK's exit deal from the EU remains in limbo, with the Prime Minister refusing to set a date for MPs to vote on the agreement and signs of fresh unhappiness in government over its contents.
Anti-brexit campaigners wave Union and EU flags outside the Houses of Parliament in central London. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFPAnti-brexit campaigners wave Union and EU flags outside the Houses of Parliament in central London. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP
Anti-brexit campaigners wave Union and EU flags outside the Houses of Parliament in central London. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox suggested that the cabinet may not give its blessing for the deal to be put before MPs unless Theresa May wins new concessions from the EU over the Irish border backstop.

The Prime Minister’s DUP allies contradicted Downing Street’s claims that progress had been made on the backstop following a meeting between Mrs May and Arlene Foster to update the DUP leader on the Prime Minister’s whistle stop tour of European capitals earlier in the week.

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Labour and the SNP accused Mrs May of treating parliament with contempt as they failed to secure a commitment to reschedule a scrapped vote on the Brexit deal before Christmas.

Mrs May was told by EU leaders and the premiers of the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland that the withdrawal agreement which includes the backstop insurance policy to keep the Irish border open will not be renegotiated.

Asked whether the deal could ever pass the Commons without changes, Mr Fox said: “I think it is very difficult to support the deal if we don’t get changes to the backstop.

“I’m not even sure if the cabinet will agree for it to be put to the House of Commons.” Mr Fox is understood to be among a group of several Brexiteers who did not back the deal after it was agreed in Brussels.

Following a meeting on Wednesday amid the chaos of the Tory leadership challenge, Ms Foster said that “tinkering around the edges would not work”.

“We were not seeking assurances or promises,” the DUP leader said. “We wanted fundamental legal text changes.”

Ms Foster added: “The DUP wants a sensible deal which our MPs can support in the House. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to work towards that.”

While she said there was no need for a new Prime Minister, Ms Foster hinted that she could back Home Secretary and potential Tory leadership hopeful Sajid Javid, who she said “understands” the DUP’s concerns about the backstop.

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At Prime Minister’s Questions, Jeremy Corbyn and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford demanded that the so-called ‘meaningful vote’ due to have taken place on Tuesday be held before the House of Commons rises next week.

Mr Blackford told the Prime Minister to “do the right thing [and] resign”.

Mrs May told MPs she has “made some progress” with European leaders and claimed Labour was the party of “no plan, no clue, no Brexit.”

Mr Corbyn repeatedly pushed the PM to hold a vote on her Brexit deal and said the “sorry saga” is frustrating businesses, workers and Tory MPs.

The Labour leader said the outcome of last night’s confidence vote would do “nothing to solve the Government’s inability” to get a Brexit deal that works for the UK.

Mrs May said MPs would get a say on the Brexit deal before a deadline of 21 January, but when pressed on the date, she said: “We had a meaningful vote in the referendum in 2016 and, if he wants a meaningful date, I will give him one: 29 March 2019, when we leave the European Union.”

The Labour leader said that was “totally and utterly unacceptable to this House”.

Mr Blackford piled further pressure on the Prime Minister, telling her she was being “contemptuous of Parliament”

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“Parliament voted for a meaningful vote; we should be having the vote and it should be happening next week,” Mr Blackford said.

“This Government are a farce: the Tory party is in chaos, the Prime Minister is a disgrace through her actions.

“The reality is that people across Scotland and the UK are seeing this today. Prime Minister, take responsibility, do the right thing: resign.”

European Council president Donald Tusk has said Mrs May will get a chance to “update” EU leaders on Brexit at a summit on Thursday before they “adopt relevant conclusions” in her absence.

In a letter to EU leaders ahead of the Brussels meeting, Mr Tusk acknowledged the “seriousness” of the situation in the UK.

“As time is running out, we will also discuss the state of preparations for a no-deal scenario,” he wrote.