Brexit: Theresa May rules out meaningful vote on EU withdrawal in commons this week

The prime minister said more time is needed to secure changes to the UK's withdrawal agreement with the European Union

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Sunday 24 February 2019 14:55
Theresa May rules out possibility of meaningful vote before March after arriving at EU summit in Sharm el Sheikh

Theresa May has ruled out putting a new Brexit deal to a vote in the House of Commons this week, but insisted one would be held by March 12.

The prime minister claimed that there is progress being made in talks with the EU to secure changes to the existing Brexit deal, but said more time is needed for them to be locked in.

It sets her up for a cabinet battle with at least three ministers who have demanded she take a no-deal Brexit off the table, if a new agreement was yet to be secured by this week.

But speaking to reporters on the plane to Sharm el Sheikh – where she will hold further Brexit meetings on Sunday and Monday – Ms May denied cabinet responsibility had crumbled.

The prime minister said: “I was in Brussels last week. Ministers were in Brussels last week. My team will be back in Brussels again this coming week. They will be returning to Brussels on Tuesday.

“As a result of that we won’t bring a meaningful vote to Parliament this week. But we will ensure that that happens by March 12. But it is still within our grasp to leave the European Union with a deal on March 29.”

Now that Ms May is not putting a new deal before the house, MPs will on Wednesday vote on alternative plans for Brexit, including one which could see it delayed, being put forward by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and ex-Tory minister Oliver Letwin.

Pensions secretary Amber Rudd, Justice secretary David Gauke and business secretary Greg Clark have indicated could back the plan, though colleagues have warned it will damage the UK’s negotiating position.

The prime minister indicated that in a statement she makes on Tuesday, she will try to persuade the three ministers not to back a delay, and could taylor the wording of a motion she puts before the commons to that end.

Ms May said: “We don’t know what amendments are going to be tabled. We don’t know what amendments are going to be selected. You haven’t even seen what motion the Government is going to put down – as I say, it won’t be the meaningful vote.

We won’t bring a meaningful vote to Parliament this week. But we will ensure that that happens by March 12. But it is still within our grasp to leave the European Union with a deal on March 29

Prime minister Theresa May

“I will be making a statement to parliament on Tuesday. And then, obviously, we’ll be having the debate the next day.”

Ms Rudd, Mr Gauke and Mr Clark said earlier in the week that they would be prepared to defy the government in order to vote for a delay.

They warned Brexiteers in the backbench European Research Group that Parliament will block the UK leaving without a deal, stating that if there is one “they will have no-one to blame but themselves”.

But despite their stance flying in the face of the government’s stated position, Ms May said: “What we have seen around the cabinet table, in the party, and in the country at large is strong views on the issue of Europe. That is not a surprise to anybody.

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“We have around the cabinet table a collective, not just responsibility, but desire, to actually ensure that we leave the European Union with a deal. That’s what we’re working for and that’s what I’m working for.”

Asked if the three ministers should remain in Government, Ms May repeated: “What we see around the Cabinet table is strong views held on cthe issue of Europe.”

Ms May said that extending Article 50 would not deal with the problem, but instead would only defer the decision on whether the UK should accept the prime minister’s negotiated settlement.

She added: “There will always come a point where we have to decide whether we accept the deal that’s been negotiated or not. And that will be a decision for every member of parliament across the house.

“Every member of the commons will have to face that decision when that point comes. The government will be bringing back, working with the EU, and will want to put a deal to the House of Commons in a meaningful vote.”

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