Theresa May postpones Brexit vote after admitting she would be defeated over Irish backstop

Written by Emilio Casalicchio on 11 December 2018 in News

The Prime Minister has vowed to go back to Europe to get further assurances over the backstop plan

Theresa May - Image credit: PA Images

Theresa May has ditched plans for a crunch Commons vote on Brexit as she admitted she was on course for a humiliating defeat.

The Prime Minister told jeering MPs her deal with the EU would be rejected “by a significant margin” over concerns about the so-called Northern Irish backstop plan.

She confirmed she would appeal to EU leaders to renegotiate the agreement and that the UK Government would ramp up planning for an accidental no-deal Brexit.

Dozens of Tory MPs had joined opposition parties and the DUP, which props up the minority Tory administration, in vowing to vote down the Brexit deal the PM clinched with Brussels.

The central protest was the backstop that could see the UK stuck in a permanent customs arrangement with the EU including separate trade regulations for Northern Ireland to protect the border with Ireland.

But May announced: “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 concerns.

"As a result, if we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow the deal would be rejected by a significant margin.

“We will therefore defer the vote scheduled for tomorrow and not proceed to divide the House at this time.”

The announcement is humiliating for the UK Government, which until yesterday morning was insisting the vote would be going ahead.

According to the House of Commons it could see the vote delayed until the day before the UK quits the EU on 29 March next year. 

The Prime Minister said she would tour EU nations ahead of the European Council summit at the end of this week to beg them to amend the backstop plan.

And she warned: "For as long as we fail to agree a deal, the risk of an accidental no deal increases.

"So the government will step up its work in preparation for that potential outcome and the Cabinet will hold further discussions on it this week."

Elsewhere, May said she was looking at "empowering the House of Commons" to have more of a say on implementing and ending any backstop.

But she urged MPs to compromise if they want to secure Brexit and get on with vital domestic issues.

Pro-Brexit Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said: "What has two years of Theresa May doing Brexit amounted to?

“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."

Speaker John Bercow urged the UK Government to call a vote on postponing the Brexit showdown, although he admitted it was not a necessity.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned the PM against bringing the same deal back from Brussels, arguing it would contain the same “fundamental flaws” that go beyond the backstop issue.

He said the UK Government had "lost control of events and is in complete disarray".

"This is a bad deal for Britain, a bad deal for our economy and a bad deal for our democracy.

“Our country deserves better than this," he said.

"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."

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