MPs vote to scrap Irish backstop from Brexit deal and send Theresa May back to Brussels

Written by Kevin Schofield on 30 January 2019 in News

The Commons voted 317 to 301 in favour of an amendment in the name of Tory MP Sir Graham Brady calling for "alternative arrangements" to be found

Theresa May in parliament - Image credit: PA Images

MPs have backed an attempt by Tory eurosceptics to scrap the Irish backstop from Theresa May's Brexit deal.

In highly-charged scenes, the Commons voted 317 to 301 in favour of an amendment in the name of Tory MP Sir Graham Brady calling for "alternative arrangements" to be found to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

The result was a boost for the Prime Minister, who had called on Conservatives to support the move and give her extra leverage during fresh negotiations with the EU.

She has pledged to return to Parliament in a fortnight to give MPs another vote on her plans.

In a statement to the Commons, the Prime Minister said: "Tonight, a majority of honourable members have said they would support a deal with changes to the backstop.

“Combined with measures to address concerns about Parliament’s role in the negotiation on the future relationship and commitments on workers’ rights, in law where need be.

“It is now clear there is a route which can ensure a substantial and sustainable majority in this House for leaving the EU with a deal. 

"We will now take this mandate forward and seek to make legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement which deal with concerns on the backstop while guaranteeing no return to a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and my colleagues and I will talk to the EU about how we address the House’s views.

"As I said this afternoon, there is limited appetite for such change in the EU and negotiating it will not be easy, but in contrast to a fortnight ago, this House has made clear what it needs to approve a withdrawal agreement."

Responding to the Prime Minister, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was now willing to meet with her to put forward his party's views on the future negotiations.

He had previously ignored invitations to sit down with Theresa May until she ruled out the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

"Since we have had this debate and the House has emphatically voted to reject the no deal option that the Prime Minister was supporting, can I say we are prepared to meet her to put forward the points of view from the Labour party of the kind of agreement we want with the European Union, to protect jobs, to protect living standards, and to protect rights and conditions in this country," he said.

But the SNP's Ian Blackford said Scotland had been "silenced, sidelined and shafted by Westminster" after MPs backed this amendment.

He said: “By throwing her weight behind an impossible demand from the hard Brexit wing of the Conservative Party the Prime Minister today demonstrated beyond doubt she is now prepared to take Scotland and the UK over the Brexit cliff-edge.

“Theresa May could have worked across parties to protect jobs and living standards but she chose to side with the Brexit extremists in her own party.

“Once again Scotland has been silenced, sidelined and shafted by Westminster, and we are paying a heavy price for a chaotic Tory government that Scotland did not vote for.

"And today the Tories ripped apart the Good Friday agreement, an international treaty the UK had signed up to." 

And Tory Brexiteers made it clear that they were putting Theresa May on notice, and would once again vote against her withdrawal agreement if she fails to get major concessions out of Brussels.

Conservative MP Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the European Research Group, said: "We have collectively agreed to support Brady on the basis of the Prime Minister’s promises, especially as regards reopening the withdrawal agreement, and that the backstop is only the worst problem.

"A vote for the Brady amendment is a vote to see if the PM can land a deal that will work. If not then we are not committed."

ERG member Andrew Rosindell said: "This gives the Prime Minister two more weeks to go away, get tough with the EU and come back with something more acceptable. If not, we will vote it down again."

Opening a five-hour Commons debate, May said it was time for MPs to make it clear to the EU what type of Brexit they support.

She said: "In the two weeks since the House rejected the withdrawal agreement, I've sensed a growing recognition of the task that has been entrusted to us.

“Members on all sides have begun to focus on what really matters, on delivering the Brexit that Britain voted for while protecting our economy and our people.

"We can increasingly see where this consensus lies and I believe that we are within reach of a deal that this House can stand behind.

“But the days ahead are crucial. When I go back to Brussels to seek the changes that this House demands, I need the strongest possible support behind me. 

"I will never stop battling for Britain, but the odds of success become far longer if this House ties one hand behind my back.

“So I call on the House to give me the mandate I need to deliver a deal that this House can support.

"Do that and I can work to re-open the withdrawal agreement.

“Do that and I can fight for a backstop that honours our commitment to the people of Northern Ireland in a way that this House can support.

“Do that and we can leave with a deal that honours the result of the referendum.

"The time has come for words to be matched by deeds.

“If you want to tell Brussels what this House will accept, then you have to vote for it. If you want to leave with a deal, you have to vote for it.

“If you want Brexit, you have to vote for Brexit."

Meanwhile, MPs also passed an amendment in the name of Caroline Spelman and Jack Dromey opposing a no-deal Brexit, but without any proposals or legal clout to stop it happening.

And in a further boost for the Prime Minister, MPs also rejected an attempt by Yvette Cooper to give Parliament the power to delay Brexit, and reduce the chances of a no-deal departure, by extending the Article 50 process by at least nine months.

Despite Jeremy Corbyn ordering his MPs to support the amendment, which was also backed by Tory Remainers, it was defeated by 321 votes to 298.

An amendment in the name of the Labour leader, which called on Parliament to back his party's Brexit plan and keep the option of a second referendum open, was also defeated.

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