Theresa May has urged MPs to “give up being a member of the European Union” for Lent as a Tory MP called on the Commons to back her Brexit deal.
Simon Hoare (North Dorset) said at Prime Minister’s Questions: “Today sees the start of Lent, traditionally a time of abstinence and giving things up. Recently its become about doing something new and positive.
“Would my Right Honourable Friend agree with me, that it would do our national soul some good if we all took up voting with the Government to leave the EU with her good deal and in an orderly fashion on the 29th March?
Mrs May replied, saying that Mr Hoare had put forward a “very positive suggestion” for MPs to back her deal.
She added: “And then of course across this House, we would all be able to give up being a member of the European Union on the 29th March.”
Later in PMQs, the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) attacked the PM for her “heartless” policy of making EU citizens living in the UK register for settled status.
Mr Blackford said forcing 87-year-old Tove MacDonald, brought up in Denmark under Nazi occupation before moving to the UK 59 years ago, to register was “a disgrace”.
He said: “Why is the Prime Minister making Tove register after almost 60 years? Will she end this heartless policy?”
Mrs May responded: “We want to ensure EU citizens living here have their rights protected ... If he is interested in defending and protecting the rights of EU citizens here in this country then I hope he will vote for the deal, which does exactly that.”
It came after Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley confirmed: “Leaving with a deal on the 29th March is our clear objective and that is what we are working towards.
“It remains though the responsibility of the UK Government to continue preparations for the full range of potential outcomes including no deal, and as we do so, and as decisions are made, we will take full account of the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland.”
She added: “The Government is taking appropriate and responsible measures in the event that we end up with no deal, but there is a way to avoid no deal and that is to vote for the deal next week.”
Raising a point of order in the Commons, Labour chairman of the Brexit Committee Hilary Benn said Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay was due to appear before the committee on Tuesday but cancelled due to his trip to Brussels with the Attorney General.
He added that he was “very surprised” to learn on Wednesday morning that Mr Barclay’s office had offered times to individual members of the committee for meetings later on Monday afternoon, but had not so far confirmed that he would be available to appear before the committee.
He said: “Given that next Tuesday we may well be considering further legal assurances relating to the Withdrawal Agreement, the committee is absolutely clear that we must hear from the Secretary of State before we vote on Tuesday.”
He added that he was raising the issue “given the urgency of this and profoundly unsatisfactory state of affairs”.
Responding, Commons Speaker John Bercow urged Mr Benn to “persist”, saying: “The Secretary of State should appear before the committee, that cannot be compelled, certainly not by the chair, but it is manifest and, I think, incontrovertible that it is desirable in terms of the scrutiny and accountability process.”
He added: “Simply offering individual meetings with members of the committee does not remotely pass muster.”