Now Brexit deal will return to Commons 'before January 21', No 10 says
Theresa May will bring her botched Brexit deal back before the House of Commons "before January 21", Downing Street has insisted.
The prime minister has embarked on a desperate tour of European capitals to seek reassurances to get her deal through Parliament, after cancelling a vote scheduled for yesterday which she accepted she would lose heavily.
But she was dealt a blow as European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker declared there was "no room whatsoever for renegotiation" of the Withdrawal Agreement reached last month.
Juncker told MEPs the agreement was the "best deal possible" and the "only deal possible". But he offered a glimmer of hope to May by saying there was room to give "further clarifications and further interpretations without opening the Withdrawal Agreement".
The delay to the so-called "meaningful vote" by MPs means that ratification may not be possible until as late as 10 weeks before the scheduled date of Brexit on March 29. But May's spokesman insisted she continues to believe that necessary preparations could be completed within that time.
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The prime minister held talks over breakfast with her Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte in The Hague, which Downing Street described as "constructive".
May told the Dutch PM that "additional assurances" would be needed on the backstop arrangement to keep the Irish border open after Brexit if the deal was to get through Parliament.
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"The leaders agreed that the backstop was only ever intended to be temporary, the prime minister set out the concerns held by many about it in the UK," said her spokesman.
"She discussed the need for additional assurances on this point in order for the deal with the EU to pass the House of Commons. The prime minister and Prime Minister Rutte agreed to work together to find a way through.
May then flew on to Berlin for a meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel and is due to travel later in the day to Brussels for talks with Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk.
The weekly Tuesday morning Cabinet meeting was postponed because of May's travels and will now be held tomorrow afternoon, when preparations for a no-deal Brexit will be on the agenda.
May will then return to Brussels on Thursday for the two-day European Council summit, though it was unclear whether she would be invited to join leaders of the other 27 member states when they discuss Brexit.
May's move to abandon a crunch Commons vote, scheduled for yesterday, on her Brexit deal drew howls of condemnation from the opposition as well as a number of Tories.
Leading Conservative Brexiteer Steve Baker suggested that that PM had a "duty" to stand down in order for a new leader to deliver EU withdrawal.
"What I would like to happen today is for Conservative Members of Parliament to realise that we simply cannot go staggering forward any longer like this and I'm afraid to put their letters of no confidence in," Baker told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
But May's spokesman responded: "The prime minister believes it is her duty to deliver on the will of the British people and take us out of the EU."
Asked if the PM continued to have full confidence in chief whip Julian Smith, the spokesman replied: "Yes."
Juncker won applause from MEPs as he said: "There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation, but of course there is room if used intelligently, there is room enough to give further clarifications and further interpretations without opening the Withdrawal Agreement.
"This will not happen: everyone has to note that the Withdrawal Agreement will not be reopened."
He confirmed he would meet May this evening but reiterated: "The deal we have achieved is the best deal possible - it is the only deal possible."
It came as Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom suggested May was seeking changes that would give Parliament an additional "democratic ability to decide".
"That might include an addendum to the Withdrawal Agreement that sets out that Parliament will vote prior to going into a backstop, should that prove necessary, and potentially that the EU Parliament and UK Parliament must vote every year thereafter to provide that legitimacy for the UK to stay in the backstop, should that prove necessary," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"So there are plenty of options for the PM to talk to the EU about that don't involve reopening the Withdrawal Agreement, but that would provide the legal text as a part of the Withdrawal Agreement, through perhaps an addendum."
Downing Street declined to be drawn on the specific form of reassurance being sought by the PM, saying only that she needed to be sure that it was something which would satisfy MPs.
As anger at Westminster continued to fester over the PM's move to cancel the Brexit vote, MPs were poised for an emergency debate on the situation called by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on the day the "meaningful vote" was initially scheduled to take place.
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