- Theresa May has delayed the Brexit vote scheduled for Tuesday evening amid fears she would lose by a significant margin.
- More than 100 Conservative MPs have already voiced opposition to the deal.
LONDON – Theresa May has delayed the parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal amid fears she could suffer a crushing defeat.
The Commons vote on whether to accept or reject May’s proposed plan for exiting the European Union was due to be held Tuesday evening.
The prime minister told MPs on Monday afternoon, however, that she would postpone the vote to prevent it from being “defeated by a significant margin.”
“I have listened very carefully to what has been said, in this chamber and out of it, by members from all sides,” she said. “From listening to those views it is clear that while there is broad support for many of the key aspects of the deal, on one issue – the Northern Ireland backstop – there remains widespread and deep concern.”
She said she would speak with other EU leaders in an attempt to secure new assurances on the so-called Brexit backstop and would bring forward a new vote before the legislative deadline of January 21.
The backstop is the controversial mechanism by which the UK would be forced to remain tied to EU customs and trade rules indefinitely if it fails to secure an alternative trade deal with the EU by the end of the two-year Brexit transition period in March.
It is designed to prevent the creation of a new hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. MPs from across the House of Commons, however, believe it would be used to tie Britain to the EU indefinitely.
On Monday, May warned that those opposing the deal must “shoulder the responsibility” of pushing Britain toward the possibility of a chaotic exit from the EU.
She added that MPs planning to vote down her deal needed to be clear that her deal remained the only one on the table, saying, “There will be no enduring or successful Brexit without compromise on both sides.”
There had been speculation the government could have lost by more than 100 votes on Tuesday night, risking the biggest government defeat since World War II.
To date, 113 Tory MPs have pledged to vote against the government, along with the vast majority of MPs from opposition parties.
Early indications that the vote would be postponed were followed by the pound falling to its lowest level against the dollar in a year and a half.
Brexiteers in the Cabinet now want May to use the delay to push for changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, particularly on the terms of the backstop for avoiding a hard Irish border, Cabinet sources told Business Insider.
“It’s not a complicated negotiation – some amendment to the backstop would be fine,” one Cabinet source said.
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow accused the government of “deeply discourteous” behaviour by delaying the vote after a week of debate in Parliament.
In a remarkable statement to MPs, Bercow called on the government to put a motion forward to be voted on by MPs about whether the vote on the prime minister’s deal should still go ahead.
The opposition Labour Party called on the prime minister to step aside and call a general election.
“The government is in disarray. Uncertainty is building for businesses, people are in despair at the state of these failed negotiations and concerned about what it means about their jobs and their communities,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told MPs.
“The fault for that lies solely at the door of this shambolic government. This prime minister is trying to buy herself one last chance to save this deal.
“If she doesn’t take on board the fundamental changes required, then she must make way for those who can.”
The Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May’s minority government, also accused the prime minister of presiding over a “shambles.”
“If this is about kicking the can down the road and getting some tweaks to the political declaration … she knows that is not going to work,” the DUP’s Nigel Dodds said. “Quite frankly, it’s a bit of a shambles. When you cross red lines, you’re in trouble.”
There was widespread confusion on Monday morning as to whether the vote would go ahead on Tuesday as planned, with senior government figures rating the chances at 50-50.
A representative for the prime minister had insisted on Monday morning that the “meaningful vote” would take place Tuesday evening as planned and added that May was “confident” of winning it.
“The vote’s going ahead as planned … What we have negotiated over the past months is the best deal and the only deal,” May’s representative told journalists at a briefing attended by Business Insider.
The decision to pull the vote, however, followed a series of phone calls by the prime minister to EU leaders over the weekend.
May spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, European President Jean-Claude Juncker, and the European Council’s president, Donald Tusk, in an apparent attempt to secure last-minute concessions on the Withdrawal Agreement.
EU sources suggest there is no appetite to reopen negotiations.
A renegotiation is “not going to happen,” one senior EU source told Business Insider.
A representative for the EU Commission said the deal couldn’t be picked apart anymore.
“We will not renegotiate, our position has not changed, and as far as we are concerned the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union on 29 March,” a representative said.
May is coming under growing pressure from Conservative MPs to step aside.
“What has two years of Theresa May doing Brexit amounted to?” Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chairman of the European Research Group, said.
“An undeliverable deal Parliament would roundly reject, if the prime minister has the gumption to allow it to go before the House of Commons.
“This is not governing, it risks putting Jeremy Corbyn into government by failing to deliver Brexit. We cannot continue like this. The prime minister must either govern or quit.”
A source in the ERG told Business Insider that it had become “much more likely” that a no-confidence vote would be held in May’s leadership over the coming days and weeks, with growing numbers of Tory MPs lobbying on private WhatsApp groups for a challenge to be launched against her.
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