THE Prime Minister has a fortnight to renegotiate her Brexit withdrawal deal, after the Government backed an amendment requesting changes to the Irish backstop.
Mrs May promised to re-open negotiations. But almost immediately, EU officials seemed to rule this out. A spokesman for Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said: “The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement and the withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation.”
MPs passed an amendment tabled by the Conservative MP Sir Graham Brady on Tuesday evening. This requires the Government to replace the backstop with unspecified “alternative arrangements”.
Mrs May insisted: “It is now clear that there is a route that can secure a substantial and sustainable majority in this House for leaving the EU, with a deal.”
PAPro-Brexit campaigners outside the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday
She told the House of Commons that the Government would bring a rewritten deal back for a “meaningful vote” by 13 February. If this proved impossible, it would put forward a statement about its plans, which could then be voted on.
Mrs May has maintained up until now that the EU withdrawal agreement could not be reworded. On Tuesday, however, she said that voting for the Brady amendment would “send a clear message to Brussels about what the House wants to see changing in the withdrawal agreement in order to be able to support it”.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said on Wednesday: “The position of the European Union is very clear. The EU institutions remain united, and we stand by the agreement that we have negotiated.”
Ireland’s Tánaiste (deputy prime minister), Simon Coveney, said: “We have a deal. The British Government was part of that. It’s an extraordinary situation when a Prime Minister and a Government negotiates a deal, and then goes back and,during the ratification process, votes against their own deal — which is what happened yesterday — and now wants to go back to their negotiating partner and change everything.
“It’s like saying: “Give me what I want, or I’m jumping out the window.” We owe it to the people of Ireland, north and south: we cannot approach this negotiation on the basis of threats.”
MPs passed an amendment, put forward by the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the Conservative MP Dame Caroline Spelman, and the Labour MP Jack Dromey, that added to the main motion: “and rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship”. It passed by a majority of eight, as 17 Conservative MPs voted with Labour and other opposition parties.
Dame Caroline said last week: “If the Prime Minister would rule out no deal, it might get us some more concessions from the EU. . . There is a clear majority in Parliament against no deal, and if you have a clear majority, the Government has to listen” (News, 25 January).
Speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, however, Mrs May maintained that the threat persisted. “Last night, the House did vote to reject no deal. But that cannot be the end of the story. You can’t just vote to reject no deal. You have to vote for a deal. Otherwise you leave with no deal.”
PAThe Commons Speaker, John Bercow. prepares to read the result of the vote on the Spelman amendment
Following the passing of the no-deal amendment, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said that he was now prepared to meet Mrs May to discuss a “sensible Brexit solution that works for the whole country”.
An attempt to delay the Article 50 process, and therefore Brexit, proposed by the Labour MP Yvette Cooper, was defeated, as 14 Labour MPs joined Conservatives to vote against it, and a further 12 abstained.
The Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, said on Tuesday: “The danger is obvious: the Prime Minister today may build a temporary sense of unity on her own benches, but in reality she’s raising expectations that she can never fulfil.”
On Thursday, the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, published a blog post which set out where he thought Brexit was headed.
He wrote: “I continue to see a dense fog around the UK Government's intentions. It seems we know more about what it is against, but not what it positively stands for.
“It is imperative for the UK to clarify its proposals without delay in these Brexit negotiations. The situation must become clearer for UK and EU27 citizens alike amid this deep uncertainty by the time the Prime Minister next comes back to Parliament in two weeks' time.
“I note that the House of Commons also passed a motion expressing its opposition to no deal, as has the House of Lords by an even larger majority. ”
Last week, an emergency Brexit motion was put down by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York for the forthcoming General Synod sessions at Church House, Westminster, this month. The motion urges politicians to call on “Christian hope and reconciliation” to help the country through a time of “entrenched and intractable” social divisions.