British PM Theresa May will embark on a diplomatic tour tomorrow to re-negotiate her Brexit deal
The Prime Minister is expected to fly to Berlin to warn German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the bloc is on the brink of a crisis with the UK edging towards a no-deal departure. She is also set to meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Council President Donald Tusk, Dutch premier Mark Rutter and other EU leaders ahead of a showdown at a Brussels summit on Thursday. Downing Street tonight confirmed that Mrs May will meet Mr Rutte in the Hague in morning before flying to Berlin for talks with Chancellor Merkel.
Her high-stakes demand for fresh concessions comes after she stunned MPs yesterday by postponing today’s expected crunch Commons vote on her Brexit deal in the face of mass opposition.
Triggering a furious backlash from across the house, the Prime Minister pulled the plug on the division after a string of Cabinet ministers told her she faced a massive defeat.
Officials refused to say when the vote will take place.
Angry Tory Eurosceptics attacked her leadership while Labour backbenchers were pressing for a vote of no-confidence on the Government.
vedvThe Prime Minister is expected to fly to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel
And Mrs May was bracing for some brutal wrangling with EU leaders after Brussels sources signalled that they were ready to play hardball in response to her demand for concessions.
EU Council President Donald Tusk insisted the bloc would not “renegotiate the deal”, although hinted extra assurances could be offered to help win over MPs.
Confirming that the Brexit crisis will be discussed at Thursday’s summit, he said: “We will not renegotiate the deal, including the backstop, but we are ready to discuss how to facilitate UK ratification.
“As time is running out, we will also discuss our preparedness for a no-deal scenario.”
She is also set to meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
Irish premier Leo Varadkar was also resisting changes to the so-called backstop border mechanism.
“The Withdrawal Agreement, including the Irish backstop, is the only agreement on the table,” he said.
Downing Street officials said the Prime Minister will press EU leaders for fresh assurances to allay the fears of MPs about the Northern Ireland “backstop” mechanism.
“She is going to be talking to fellow leaders so you can expect some travel,” her spokesman said.
EU Council President Donald Tusk insisted the bloc would not “renegotiate the deal”
He also promised that the EU’s Article 50 departure process will not be extended to push Brexit beyond the scheduled March 29 2019 departure day.
“We will not be extending Article 50,” he said.
Explaining the decision to pull the vote, he added: “I don’t think there was anything to be gained from suffering a significant defeat in the House of Commons before going back for talks with European leaders.”
Mrs May announced her decision to put off today’s vote in a statement to MPs yesterday.
Irish premier Leo Varadkar
“I have listened. I have heard those concerns and I will now do everything I possibly can to secure further assurances,” she said.
Her climb down follows days of pressure from Cabinet ministers to find a way out of the showdown following concerns well over 100 Tory MPs were set to rebel.
She finally took the decision during a conference all involving almost all Cabinet ministers at noon yesterday.
The reversal left some ministers red-faced. In the morning, Environment Secretary Michael Gove promised that the vote would go ahead.
Her decision, three days into a five-day Commons debate on her deal, triggered furious scenes at Westminster.
Mark Francois, a former Tory minister, said: “What the Government have done today is shameful. It is a complete abuse of this House.”
Other Euro-sceptic Tories were also scathing about the Prime Minister’s decision to delay the vote and raised fresh questions about her leadership.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman for the backbench European Research Group of MPs, said: “What has two years of Theresa May doing Brexit amounted to?
Environment Secretary Michael Gove promised that the vote would go ahead
“An undeliverable deal parliament would roundly reject, if the Prime Minister has the gumption to allow it to go before the House of Commons.
“This is not governing, it risks putting Jeremy Corbyn into government by failing to deliver Brexit.
“We cannot continue like this. The Prime Minister must either govern or quit.”
He added: “I think that this is a rotten day for the Government. And it is a humiliating day.”
Brexiteer and Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg
Former Brexit minister Steve Baker said: “This is essentially a defeat of the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.
“The terms of the Withdrawal Agreement were so bad that they didn’t dare put it to Parliament for a vote.
“This isn’t the mark of a stable government or a strong plan.”
In her Commons statement, the Prime Minister told MPs: “I have listened very carefully to what has been said, in this chamber and out of it, by members from all sides.
“From listening to those views it is clear that while there is broad support for many of the key aspects of the deal, on one issue – the Northern Ireland backstop – there remains widespread and deep concern.
“As a result, if we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow the deal would be rejected by a significant margin.
“We will therefore defer the vote scheduled for tomorrow and not proceed to divide the House at this time.”
Mrs May insisted no deal was possible without a “backstop” insurance mechanism to guarantee the continuing open border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
She recognised that many MPs needed more “reassurance” that the backstop will not turn into a trap that keeps the UK locked into an EU custom union indefinitely.
She promised to hold talks with EU leaders to ensure MPs get a say about the operation of the backstop.
“We are also looking closely at new ways of empowering the House of Commons to ensure that any provision for a backstop has democratic legitimacy and to enable the House to place its own obligations on the government to ensure that the backstop cannot be in place indefinitely,” she said.
But she warned that MPs will have to accept “a compromise” or see Brexit cancelled and the will of voters expressed in the 2016 EU referendum thwarted.
Theresa May warned that MPs will have to accept “a compromise” or see Brexit cancelled
“Does this House want to deliver Brexit? And if it does, does it want to do so through reaching an agreement with the EU?” she asked.
“If the answer is yes, and I believe that is the answer of the majority of this House, then we all have to ask ourselves whether we are prepared to make a compromise, because there will be no enduring and successful Brexit without some compromise on both sides of the debate.”
Tory backbencher Andrew Bridgen was heckled by some party colleagues for saying the Prime Minister had “lost the trust and credibility” of the Commons, the country and the EU.
He said: “Successful renegotiations require trust and credibility.
DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds
“Given the Prime Minister’s breathtaking U-turn today, I put it to her that she’s lost the trust and credibility of the House, lost the trust and credibility of the country and most importantly she’s lost the trust and credibility of the European Union as well.”
DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said the Prime Minister’s reassurance “simply is not credible” and the Government was in “an impossible position” without changes to the backstop.
He said: “The Prime Minister says she is listening but she talks about reassurances and assurances – does she not get it by now that the Withdrawal Agreement legally binding text is unacceptable to this House?
“She cannot pretend going on defending the deal when she knows that if the vote had taken place tomorrow it would have been overwhelmingly defeated.
Prime Minister repeatedly rejected calls for a second referendum
“So please, Prime Minister, really do start listening and come back with changes to the Withdrawal Agreement or it will be voted down.”
Former business minister Anna Soubry led calls for a second referendum following the postponement of the vote.
“The thing that is changing is the view of the British people.
“I know it’s nearly the pantomime season but ‘oh yes it has’.”
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve said: “Surely we should go back to the public and ask them exactly what they want and offer them the alternative of remaining in the EU.”
Tory grandee Ken Clarke told Mrs May there was “no predicable majority for any single course of action going forward” and therefore no EU government would negotiate any new arrangement.
The SNP’s deputy Westminster leader Kirsty Blackman told Mrs May that her decision to pull the vote was a “stunning display of pathetic cowardice”.
In response to MPs, the Prime Minister repeatedly rejected calls for a second referendum.
She said: “I believe it would lead to a significant loss of faith in our democracy. I believe it would lead many people to question the role of this House and the role of members in this House.”