Theresa May on course for historic defeat over Brexit deal

Written by Matt Foster on 15 January 2019 in News

An amendment by Labour MP Hillary Benn that might have limited the scale of the loss has been withdrawn

Theresa May - Image credit: PA Images

Theresa May is on course for an historic Commons defeat on her Brexit deal tonight after a Labour MP withdrew an amendment which could have reduced the scale of her loss.

MPs will finally be given the chance to pass their verdict on the withdrawal agreement the Prime Minister struck with Brussels last year.

The Prime Minister will hold a series of face-to-face meetings with wavering MPs ahead of tonight's vote, but all the signs are that she is heading for one of the largest government defeats in modern political history.

In a fresh blow for May, an amendment in the name of former Labour frontbencher Hilary Benn, which would have effectively killed off the Prime Minister's deal and ruled out a no-deal exit, is to be withdrawn.

It is understood that Tory MPs were being encouraged to vote for it so it could pass and therefore limit the size of the Prime Minister's subsequent defeat.

But Benn said: "I have decided to withdraw my amendment to the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement motion today which would have rejected both the PM’s deal and leaving with no deal.

"It’s vital that we now get the clearest expression of view from the House on the Government’s deal – like many others I will vote against it – but I intend to pursue a ‘no to no deal’ vote at the earliest opportunity.

The Brexit Select Committee chair added: "If the Prime Minister loses tonight, the Government must reach out across the House to try and find a way forward. 

“If this doesn’t happen, then Parliament will have to take the lead."

More than 100 Conservative MPs have publicly spoken out against the agreement, while the DUP, who May relies on for her Commons majority, has savaged the deal.

Meanwhile, few Labour MPs appear to have been convinced to jump sides in recent weeks.

The Prime Minister last night pleaded with Conservative MPs to back her deal in a behind-closed-doors meeting, with one minister present saying she had told them to "come together" and keep Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn "as far away from Number 10 as possible".

She also told the Commons: "Over these next 24 hours, give this deal a second look. No it is not perfect. And yes it is a compromise.

"But when the history books are written, people will look at the decision of this House tomorrow and ask: did we deliver on the country's vote to leave the European Union?

"Did we safeguard our economy, our security and our Union? Or did we let the British people down?"

Crucial to the PM's fate today will be a clutch of amendments put forward by MPs demanding that she change course.

More than a dozen have been tabled, with Speaker John Bercow revealing which ones he has chosen for debate at around 10.30am.

MPs are also pushing to seize control of the Brexit process if the deal falls, while Number 10 has said it will back amendments seeking to give Parliament more say over the implementation of the controversial Northern Ireland backstop.

The Government has also said it will back an amendment to protect workers' rights in a bid to woo Labour MPs.

But Mr Corbyn, who could call for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister as soon Tuesday evening, told his MPs last night: "Theresa May has attempted to blackmail Labour MPs to vote for her botched deal by threatening the country with the chaos of no deal.

"I know from conversations with colleagues that this has failed. The Labour party will not be held to ransom."

Under an amendment passed last week, the Prime Minister will have until next Monday night to return to the House of Commons with her plan B if she is defeated.

If she loses the vote, the PM then could make an immediate Commons statement pledging to press the European Union for fresh changes to the deal.

In a further blow for the PM, her deal last night suffered a heavy defeat in the House of Lords, with peers backing a Labour motion warning the deal would damage the UK's economy and security by 321 votes to 152.

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