Brexit: MPs will not be told of any changes to Theresa May's deal when debate starts

Prime minister abandons hopes of early breakthrough in hunt for 'reassurances' from EU - with 'meaningful vote' just 8 days away

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
@Rob_Merrick
Monday 07 January 2019 14:48
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MPs will begin debating Theresa May’s Brexit deal in the dark about any changes made, after she abandoned hopes of an early breakthrough in talks with the EU.

No 10 has accepted the “reassurances” it is seeking on the Irish border backstop will not come before the withdrawal agreement returns to the Commons on Wednesday, The Independent understands.

The prime minister’s spokesman would not guarantee she would open the debate – the last opportunity she would have to announce any progress before it gets underway.

Labour described the failure to update MPs – with just 8 days until the expected meaningful vote and 3 weeks after it was delayed for fresh talks – as “outrageous”.

Meanwhile, Downing Street confirmed MPs could lose their February recess, and be made to work weekends, if necessary to pass Brexit legislation before exit day on March 29.

“We are committed to ensuring the statue book is ready for exit day and will do whatever is required to deliver that,” the prime minister’s spokesman said.

Quizzed about the apparent deadlock in Brussels as she launched the NHS Plan, Ms May claimed that there had been “some further movement” from the EU last month

“In the coming days, what we will set out is not just about the EU but also about what we can do domestically, she said.

“So, we will be setting out measures which will be specific to Northern Ireland, we will be setting out proposals for a greater role for parliament as we move into the next stage of the negotiation and we are continuing to work on further assurances on further undertakings from the European Union in relation to the concern that has been expressed by parliamentarians.”

However, a government source accepted the EU would not shift before Wednesday, while insisting there was still an expectation of some sort of concession before the vote.

Ms May has abandoned her pledge, before Christmas, to secure a “legally binding” power for the UK to break free of the Irish backstop, if implemented.

Instead, the focus has switched to persuading the EU to give some form of guarantee that a trade deal will be in place by the end of 2021 – making the backstop necessary for no longer than one year, after the end of the transition period.

However, experts have warned trade talks will take many years – while a legal guarantee to introduce it by a set date could backfire, if it forced the UK to accept what was on offer from the EU.

Asked when the prime minister would have an update for MPs, her spokesman would say only that there would be “further details in the coming days”.

And, asked how MPs would be told about the status of her talks if Ms May did not start the debate, he replied: “Obviously, she has prime minister’s questions on Wednesday.”

No 10 revealed that the prime minister spoke with seven EU leaders over the Christmas and New Year period, as she attempted to secure concessions.

They were German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez and Irish premier Leo Varadkar, as well as European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

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