- Theresa May secures new “legally binding” assurances from the European Union on her Brexit deal.
- The assurances go some way short of the demands of previous opponents of her deal.
- Pro-Brexit Conservative MPs are split over whether to back the deal.
- The House of Commons will vote on the deal on Tuesday evening. Defeat will trigger a series of votes on delaying Brexit.
- The EU warned that a second rejection of the deal could mean that Brexit might “not happen” at all.
LONDON – The future of Theresa May’s Brexit deal and her premiership hangs in the balance after she secured a series of new “legally binding” assurances from the European Union ahead of a crunch commons vote on her deal.
The prime minister met for last-minute talks with EU leaders in Strasbourg on Monday evening before announcing the revised terms of her deal.
The deal will be put to Members of Parliament on Tuesday evening after it was previously defeated by a record-breaking House of Commons majority back in January.
A further defeat tonight would trigger a series of parliamentary votes, which are most likely to compel the prime minister to seek to delay Brexit, which in turn would throw May’s premiership into jeopardy.
Under the terms of last night’s agreement, the EU has formalised previous assurances on the controversial Northern Ireland backstop, as well as allowed the United Kingdom the right to seek independent arbitration on exiting it.
The UK has also put forward a “unilateral declaration,” stating that it believes it can exit the backstop arrangement if it believes the EU is acting in bad faith in future negotiations to find alternatives to it.
May said the deal had been “improved” and urged her MPs to unite behind it.
“What we have secured is very clearly that the backstop cannot be indefinite; cannot become permanent. It is only temporary,” the prime minister said in a press conference last night.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that MPs must back the deal, or risk Brexit not happening at all.
“Let us be crystal clear about the choice – it is this deal or Brexit might not happen at all,” he said.
“There will be no new negotiations. It is this. In politics, sometimes you get a second chance. It is what we do with the second chance that counts. Because there will be no third chance.”
In a further warning to MPs, the text of last night’s agreement also revealed that the EU will not tolerate a delay to Brexit beyond the last week of May, unless the UK takes part in the upcoming European Parliament elections.
MPs could this week instruct the prime mininister to delay Brexit by requesting an extension to the Article 50 withdrawal process. This would require approval from the 27 other EU member states.
Defeat still looks likely
Despite the fresh assurances, the Withdrawal Agreement itself remains unchanged, and the new terms go some way short of the previous demands of Conservative opponents that the backstop should either have a fixed time-limit or the UK should be free to unilaterally withdraw from it.
Opponents of the deal appeared split on Monday evening, with the chairman of the European Research Group of pro-Brexit MPs, Jacob Rees-Mogg, describing the agreement as a “step in the right direction,” while his deputy, Steve Baker, said it fell “short of what was expected.”
The result tonight will hang largely on whether the Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May’s minority government, has been persuaded.
The party’s leader, Arlene Foster, released a non-committal statement last night stating that the party would examine the new agreement in detail before making a decision.
Conservative MPs will also be waiting to hear from the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, who is expected later today to alter his previous legal advice that the UK could be kept in the backstop indefinitely.
While it looks likely that May will significantly reduce the scale of her defeat tonight from the record-breaking 230 vote deficit her deal received back in January, a number of previous opponents of the deal signalled on Monday evening that their opposition remained.
“I will be voting against the government’s motion on EU withdrawal tomorrow,” the Remain-supporting Conservative MP Damian Collins tweeted.
“Nothing has really changed since last November. We have the power to apply to an arbitration panel to leave the back stop, but not the right to leave by ourselves.”
Labour MPs, around 30 of whom have suggested that they are willing to be persuaded to back the deal, are unlikely to switch their support behind it unless the vote appears to be winnable.
MPs will later on Tuesday seek to add a series of amendments to the government’s motion on the deal which will be voted on from 7.00 pm (GMT).
If defeated the government will immediately announce the schedule on votes for leaving the EU without a deal, or delaying Brexit, which will be voted on later in the week.
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