The department for exiting the EU has executed a screeching u-turn on whether MPs will get a vote on a final deal before the UK departs the union.
Just hours after Brexit secretary David Davis MPs told MPs they may not get to vote on the terms of departure until the UK has already left, his department clarified that they “expect and intend” the vote to be held first.
The department issued a statement describing his earlier warning as an answer to ‘hypothetical scenarios’.
The clarification also said that an agreement should be reached ‘by October’ next year – despite Mr Davis telling the House of Commons’ Brexit committee this morning that talks could drag on until the last minute, in March 2019, something he described as “very exciting for everyone watching”.
Theresa May had already contradicted her minister, saying at Prime Minister’s Questions that she was confident there would be enough time for MPs to get a Brexit vote before the UK left. She said she believed it would happen “in time for Parliament to have the vote we committed to”.
The statement from a spokesperson at Mr Davis’ Brexit department said: ‘We are working to reach an agreement on the final deal in good time before we leave the EU in March 2019.
‘Once the deal is agreed we will meet our long-standing commitment to a vote in both Houses and we expect and intend this to be before the vote in the European Parliament and therefore before we leave.
‘This morning the Secretary of State was asked about hypothetical scenarios. [European chief negotiator] Michel Barnier has said he hopes to get the deal agreed by October 2018 and that is our aim as well.’
Mr Davis had earlier said that the negotiations could drag on to the “59th minute of the 11th hour” and would be “very exciting for everyone watching”.
He said the timing of the vote depended on when and if a deal was struck.
“It depends when it concludes,” he said. “It can’t come before we have the deal.”
Asked by the committee’s chair Hilary Benn on whether this might not happen before the end of March 2019, the Brexit secretary said: “Yeah, that’s correct, in the event that we don’t do the deal until then.”
Mr Davis told the committee that the conclusion of the negotiations with the EU would be “very exciting”.
“It is no secret that the way the union makes its decisions tends to be at the 11th minute, 59th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day and so on and that’s precisely what I expect to happen here,” he said.
“It will be very high stress, very exciting for everyone watching, but that’s what will happen.
“In technical terms, there is no reason why we can’t do this in the time available… I am quite sure in my mind we can do this.”