Theresa May has been accused of ‘making it up as she goes along’ after saying she will try to reopen the withdrawal agreement.
The prime minister told Cabinet she was ready to reopen negotiations with the EU on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to secure changes to the controversial backstop plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
She said that, following this month’s crushing 230-vote defeat in the Commons, it was clear that only reopening the agreement and changing the backstop would win MPs’ support for her EU withdrawal deal.
In a change to previously announced plans, she will address MPs at the start of debate on a series of proposed amendments to the deal, urging them to back proposals from Tory grandee Sir Graham Brady to replace the backstop with ‘alternative arrangements’.
Labour MP Jo Stevens, a supporter of the anti-Brexit campaign group Best for Britain, said the PM was ‘making it up as she goes along’.
She said: ‘The EU have been very clear – there will be no renegotiation of the deal. In capitulating yet again to the ERG [European Research Group of hardline Tory Brexiteers), the prime minister is recklessly moving the country closer and closer to no-deal.
‘It’s time she stopped trying solely to salvage her disastrous premiership and the internal Tory Party battles and finally started acting in the national interest’
In an apparent attempt to fend off possible defeat on other amendments which could delay Brexit or rule out a no-deal departure, May promised that today’s votes would not be MPs’ final chance to pass judgment on EU withdrawal.
Her hopes of victory for the Brady amendment were boosted when former foreign secretary and Brexit figurehead Boris Johnson said he would ‘gladly’ vote for it – if it meant the withdrawal agreement being reopened and legally binding changes being made to the backstop.
But the chances of the Commons derailing her plans were also heightened when Labour confirmed it will back a cross-party amendment to push Brexit day back from March 29 to the end of this year and put Parliament in the driving seat on the way forward.
This proposal, tabled by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tory Nick Boles, is one of the strongest-backed of a bevy of rival amendments tabled for debate. Only those selected by Speaker John Bercow will go forward to a vote.
May is expected to have phone discussions with key EU leaders over the course of the day, with votes taking place in the early evening.
Speaking to Cabinet, she said she aimed to return to the Commons ‘as soon as possible’ with a revised deal, which would be subject to a ‘meaningful vote’ of MPs. If it is defeated, she will table another amendable motion for debate the following day.
If no new deal is reached by February 13, the PM will make a statement to Parliament that day and table an amendable motion for debate the following day.
Her announcement brought the prospect of the cancellation of Parliament’s half-term recess a step closer, as the Commons is currently due to rise for its 10-day break on February 14.