Theresa May has insisted that she remains “on course to deliver on Brexit” despite her humiliating defeat in the House of Commons.
Arriving at a European Council summit in Brussels last night, the Prime Minister said her flagship EU (Withdrawal) Bill was making “good progress” despite Wednesday’s setback, which she said was the Government’s only defeat in 36 votes on the legislation.
Leaders of the other 27 EU states are expected to give the green light to the start of the second phase of Brexit talks in Mrs May’s absence today, the second day of the two-day summit.
But doubt remains over when negotiations on the future trade relationship will begin, with leaked documents suggesting that guidelines for talks on the new relationship will not even be drawn up until March.
Arriving shortly before Mrs May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there was “a good chance that the second phase can now begin”.
Dutch PM Mark Rutte played down suggestions that Mrs May’s Commons defeat had diminished her authority in Brussels, saying: “I think she still has formidable stature here.”
Asked about Wednesday night’s vote to give MPs a “meaningful” vote on the final EU withdrawal deal, Mrs May said: “I am disappointed with the amendment but actually the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is making good progress through the House of Commons and we are on course to deliver on Brexit.”
Asked whether she will be forced to make further concessions to backbench rebels over Europe, Mrs May said: “We have actually had 36 votes on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill and we have won 35 of those votes, with an average majority of 22.
“The Bill is making good progress. We are on course to deliver Brexit, we are on course to deliver the vote of the British people.”
Mrs May, who was the last leader to arrive at the summit after attending the Grenfell Tower memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral, said she was looking forward to addressing the other 27 over dinner about the “deep and special relationship” which she hopes to forge between the UK and EU after Brexit.
But she was coming under pressure to spell out in more detail what she wants from a future trade deal.
Mr Rutte said the PM was “holding her cards close to her heart” but it was now “up to her and the UK Government to sketch out that future relationship”.
Luxembourg’s PM Xavier Bettel suggested that her defeat in the Commons would add to the pressure on the PM by further limiting the time available for her to strike a deal.
In a night of high drama on Wednesday, rebel ringleader Dominic Grieve told the Government it was “too late” as ministers made last-minute concessions in an attempt to head off the revolt.