What we learned from the first day of the Brexit debate

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks in the House of Commons at the start of a five-day debate on the Withdrawal Agreement. Photograph: PA.

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks in the House of Commons at the start of a five-day debate on the Withdrawal Agreement. Photograph: PA.

It was a day of defeats for Theresa May - sparked by Tory infighting and the loss of support from her DUP allies.

Here is what we learned in the first day of the Brexit debate in the House of Commons.

Day of defeats

Before the debate could even get going, May suffered a series of bruising Commons defeats which saw her authority take a pounding.

Ministers had to agree to publish the “final and full” legal advice on the withdrawal agreement as the government was found to be in contempt of Parliament for not already doing so.

And in another blow to the PM, MPs succeeded in calls for the Commons to have a direct say in what happens if her deal is rejected next Tuesday.

The votes delayed the start of the five-day debate by several hours.

It’s about compromise, says the PM

Opening the debate on the Brexit deal, May said MPs needed to accept that compromise was necessary to “bring the country together”.

She said the “only solution that will endure” was one that addressed the concerns of both sides of the debate.

The PM warned that the country would be plunged into “uncertainty and risk” if her deal was rejected, adding: “Don’t imagine that if we vote this down another deal is going to miraculously appear.”

She also appeared to soften her approach to Parliament as she pledged to give MPs a “greater and more formal role” in the UK’s forthcoming negotiations with the EU over future trade.

May said she wanted to launch a “national mission” to forge the “strongest possible future relationship” with the EU.

Jeremy Corbyn hits back

The Labour leader said May’s deal had put the country “over a barrel”, and described it as a “terrible failure of negotiation by this government”.

Corbyn said the PM had achieved something “extraordinary” with her Brexit deal: “Across this House it has achieved something - it has united both Conservative Remainers and Conservative Leavers and members of every opposition party in an extraordinary coalition against the deal.”

He added: “It is crystal clear that the prime minister’s claim that this plan means we take control over our laws, money and borders is utterly far-fetched.”

Corbyn said Britain’s trading relationship with Europe was still to be negotiated and it would take years to do that, adding the call for a transition period was a “bridge to nowhere”.

He added: “After two years of negotiations all the government has really agreed to is a very vague wish list.”

Divisions in the Tory party

Divisions among the Tory benches were laid bare for all to see in the Commons as former foreign secretary Boris Johnson urged colleagues to reject May’s Brexit deal and claimed Brussels “think they’ve got us beat”.

He was heckled by fellow Tory MPs as he outlined ideas which included renegotiating with the EU and removing the Irish border backstop.

The Brexiteer told MPs he did not believe there was a single MP “who sincerely believes this deal we have before us is a good deal”.

He said: “The government’s heart has not appeared to be in this deal and I think listening to those who are sent out to defend it and to explain it, they know it is a democratic disaster.”

Tory MP Sir Roger Gale demanded Johnson reveal what his “big idea” was, while Father of the House Ken Clarke, a Tory former chancellor, suggested there was not a “faintest chance” of Johnson’s bid for a renegotiation being taken seriously.

Regret from the DUP

The DUP’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds accused the government of going back on its word during talks with the party over the Brexit deal and attacked the Northern Ireland backstop proposal.

Speaking about previous guarantees over the whole of the UK leaving the customs union, he said: “Quite frankly a lot of people in Northern Ireland feel that the government, the prime minister, the pledges that were made have not been honoured.

“We’re sad about this, I deeply regret it. I admire the prime minister, her stamina, her resilience, the work that she’s doing - but on this I think she has misjudged the mood of the country and the mood of the House.”

Frankenstein’s monster?

The first day of debates came to an end shortly after Labour former minister David Lammy roused MPs with a late-night speech.

He said: “Theresa May’s deal has emerged as a Frankenstein’s monster - an ugly beast that no-one voted for or wanted... The deal does not take back control, it gives it away.”

What will happen on day two?

MPs are expected to resume the debate in the early afternoon.

Ministers are also expected to set out how the highly sensitive legal advice provided to the Cabinet by attorney general Geoffrey Cox on the withdrawal deal will be made public.

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