Brexit: Theresa May seeks backing for amendment calling for changes to backstop

Ann Santiago
January 30, 2019

A leading Brexit supporter says he will back Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit divorce deal with the European Union if she wins concessions on controversial language created to prevent border checks in Northern Ireland.

Earlier on Tuesday Mrs May called on MPs to support the vote to allow her to return to Brussels to reopen negotiations on the Brexit withdrawal deal.

Brady said if the motion was approved by Parliament, it would give Mrs May "enormous firepower" to go back to Brussels and renegotiate the Brexit divorce deal.

She urged MPs to vote to rule out the backstop, which would see the United Kingdom in a customs union with the EU until a new trade deal is signed, "to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border [in Ireland]".

"If the prime minister indicates in the debate that she will be pressing Brussels to reopen the WA [Withdrawal Agreement] to make changes to the backstop, I will gladly support the Brady amendment", former foreign secretary and prominent Brexit supporter Boris Johnson said on Twitter.

"The idea the European Union and the Irish government would drive this process to a no-deal exit in order to try to achieve something which is meant to avoid no-deal Brexit, that is not going to happen", Hancock said.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper's amendment - backed by Labour and a handful of Tories was also defeated.

Mrs. May's gamble is that Europe - keen to avoid such a messy "no-deal" Brexit and frustrated by the fact that Britain has failed as yet to speak with one voice on the matter, might give her some new leeway if she presents a plan with solid parliamentary backing.

Most members of Parliament oppose leaving without a deal, but they rejected several proposals that tried to wrest control of the Brexit process from the government and give it to Parliament so that lawmakers can stop Britain crashing out of the European Union without a deal.

She said Britain risked crashing out of the European Union without a deal "by accident" because London can not decide what it wants.

This amendment means Mrs May has to return to the European Union and try to negotiate a new deal (to sort out what kind of border there will be with Ireland).

Tuesday's vote is not an endorsement of that plan, just an acknowledgement that she told MPs about it.

House of Commons speaker John Bercow said he had selected seven amendments, including one put forward by Conservative lawmaker Graham Brady which calls for the so-called Northern Irish backstop to be removed and replaced with "alternative arrangements".

"The Agreement is a carefully negotiated compromise, which balances the United Kingdom position on customs and the single market with avoiding a hard border and protecting the integrity of the EU customs union and single market".

Lawmakers also rejected a no-deal Brexit, with 318 to 310 approving an amendment that would seek to take the option off the table.

The issue? The EU says it already negotiated a deal, and won't do so again.

The backstop is supposed to be an insurance policy to prevent a hard border between Ireland (EU country) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK) if trade talks are not finalised by the end of the transition period in December 2020.

Yet some hardcore Brexiteers support leaving the European trading bloc with no deal, due to their extreme dislike of May's approach, which seeks to keep Britain closely tied to European rules.

Nor is this move legally binding: a no-deal Brexit could still happen.

Downing Street still wants the support of Labour members because few believe it will be possible to eliminate the Conservative rebels, even if May were to succeed in removing the Irish backstop in last-ditch negotiations with the EU.

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