May sets out plan for January showdown on her Brexit deal

PUBLISHED: 16:48 17 December 2018

Theresa May sets out her timings Photo: PA

Theresa May sets out her timings Photo: PA

PA Wire/PA Images

Theresa May has set the timetable for a decisive showdown with MPs over her Brexit deal in January.

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The prime minister said the Commons would have the chance to debate her Withdrawal Agreement in the week MPs return to Westminster after Christmas on January 7.

The crucial vote - which was postponed earlier this month to avoid a heavy defeat - will take place the following week.

May told the Commons: “It is now only just over 14 weeks until the UK leaves the EU and I know many members of this House are concerned that we need to take a decision soon.”

She added: “I can confirm today that we intend to return to the meaningful vote debate in the week commencing January 7 and hold the vote the following week.”

The prime minister’s announcement came after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had threatened to table a motion of no confidence in her if she did not set a date for the vote.

The Labour leader said the vote should have been held before Christmas, accusing May of “dither and delay”.

He told her: “A responsible prime minister would for the good of this country put this deal before the House this week so we could move on from this government’s disastrous negotiation.

“This is a constitutional crisis and the prime minister is the architect of it. She is leading the most shambolic and chaotic government in modern British history.”

The prime minister’s statement came as:

- Cabinet ministers openly speculated about how to proceed if the deal is rejected

- Brussels appeared to dispute claims that negotiations were continuing over the terms of the deal

- Planning for a no-deal Brexit was being stepped up, with the Cabinet discussing “the next phase in ensuring we are ready for that scenario” on Tuesday.

The prime minister warned MPs that rejecting her deal would not result in an alternative “miraculously” appearing.

“Avoiding ‘no deal’ is only possible if we can reach an agreement or if we abandon Brexit entirely,” she said.

And in a warning to campaigners calling for a second referendum, she said it would “break faith with the British people” and do “irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics”.

But one of May’s closest allies said “all options” should remain open if the deal is rejected.

Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd said it would be important to find out the “will of Parliament” on how to proceed, while business secretary Greg Clark also appeared to back an indicative vote to find out what - if anything - MPs could support.

Asked whether he was tempted to give MPs a range of options to vote on, Clark told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think, obviously, it’s important, once the prime minister has finished her negotiations with other European leaders and the Commission, that Parliament votes on that.

“If that were not to be successful, we do need to have agreement - we can’t just have continuing uncertainty, and I think Parliament should be invited to say what it would agree with, and that’s something that I think businesses up and down the country would expect elected members to take responsibility, rather than just be critics.”

But he cautioned against a second referendum, saying it would “continue the uncertainty for many more months”.

Rudd told reporters that she hoped the prime minister’s deal would be supported in the vote expected in January.

But she added: “After that we need to find out where the will of Parliament is, where the majority of MPs will vote in Parliament and nothing should be off the table, we should consider all options.”

She has previously suggested that a Norway-plus deal, with the UK in both a customs union and the single market, could be a “plausible” alternative.

May’s official spokesman later told a Westminster media briefing that there were “no plans” to stage an indicative vote on a range of Brexit options, but did not definitively rule the option out.

He said that all Cabinet ministers who have spoken publicly on Brexit in recent days had made clear their commitment to getting the Prime Minister’s deal through Parliament, which remains the government’s priority.

But there was confusion over efforts to secure further guarantees over the controversial Northern Irish backstop measure designed to prevent a hard border with Ireland.

Downing Street said talks by officials were continuing “at all levels” to seek further clarification and assurances on the terms of the existing deal - and particularly the nature of the proposed backstop - as agreed at the European Council last week.

But European Commission chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas said no further meetings between the EU and the UK to discuss the Brexit deal were expected.

He told a press conference in Brussels: “The deal that is on the table is the best and the only deal possible - we will not reopen it, it will not be renegotiated. As President Tusk said, the European Council has given the clarifications that were possible at this stage so no further meetings with the United Kingdom are foreseen.”

He added that talk of a second referendum was an “internal” matter for the UK.

Meanwhile, the BBC reported that May had turned to former prime minister David Cameron for advice on how to give MPs a “greater role” if her Brexit deal was rejected.

May’s spokesman said: “To my knowledge, I’m not aware of any advice in that way.”

A source said the pair “talk occasionally” but Cameron did not have any role advising her.

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