Prime Minister Theresa May has called off Tuesday’s crucial vote on her Brexit deal so she can go back to Brussels and ask for changes to it.
As it stands the deal “would be rejected by a significant margin” if MPs voted on it, she admitted. But she said she was confident of getting “reassurances” from the EU on the Northern Ireland border plan.
MPs reacted angrily to her announcement with Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn saying she had “lost control of events”. The U-turn came after the PM and senior ministers had spent days insisting the vote would go ahead, despite the scale of opposition from MPs being obvious.
Theresa May refused to say when the Commons vote on her deal would now be held – saying it would depend how long fresh talks with the EU last.
Some MPs called for it to come back to the Commons before Christmas, but Mrs May would only say the final deadline for the vote was 21 January.
She said the UK’s departure date from the EU – 29 March next year – was written into law and the government was “committed” to delivering on it.
Conservative Remainer Justine Greening said she hoped the PM would not wait until 28 March before holding the vote.
Dozens of Conservative MPs had been planning to join forces with Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the DUP to vote down May’s deal.
The Tory rebels and the DUP do not like the Northern Ireland “backstop”, a legally-binding proposal for a customs arrangement with the EU, which would come into force if the two sides cannot agree a future relationship which avoids the return of a visible Northern Ireland border.
Tory MPs say it is unacceptable because it would result in new regulatory barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and could continue indefinitely, because the UK would not be able to leave without the EU’s approval.
She vowed to put the deal to a vote but said there was no point at this stage because it would have been defeated.
She told MPs would be speaking to EU leaders ahead of a summit later this week, about the “clear concerns” expressed by MPs about the backstop.
And she would also be “looking closely at new ways of empowering the House of Commons to ensure that any provision for a backstop has democratic legitimacy”.
She wants to enable MPs to place obligations on the government “to ensure that the backstop cannot be in place indefinitely”.
She again rejected all other alternatives that have been proposed to her deal – including a further referendum and leaving without a deal.
She said her deal “gives us control of our borders, our money and our laws – it protects jobs, security and our Union”.
“It is the right deal for Britain. I am determined to do all I can to secure the reassurances this House requires, to get this deal over the line and deliver for the British people,” she added.
Asked by Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable if EU leaders would be ready to ditch the backstop, she they had shown they aware of MPs’ concerns that the backstop should be temporary.
“A number of European leaders I’ve spoken to have indicated that they are open to discussions to find a way to provide reassurance to members of this House on that point,” she added.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the prime minister had “lost control of events” and the government was in “complete chaos” – and urged her to stand down.
Corbyn faced a call from Sir Vince Cable, who is campaigning for a further referendum, to table a vote of no confidence in the prime minister, which he said his party would back.
SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon earlier tweeted to Jeremy Corbyn: “If Labour, as official opposition, lodges motion of no confidence in this incompetent government tomorrow, @theSNP will support & we can then work together to give people the chance to stop Brexit in another vote. This shambles can’t go on – so how about it?”
Leading Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said in a statement that Mrs May lacked the “gumption” to put her “undeliverable” deal before MPs.
“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.”
Rees-Mogg is trying to get enough Tory MPs to submit letters of no confidence in the PM to trigger a leadership contest.
The deputy leader of the DUP – the Northern Ireland party whose backing Theresa May needs to win key votes – Nigel Dodds, said the situation was “quite frankly a bit of a shambles” and the PM was paying the price for crossing her “red lines” when it came to Northern Ireland.
He told May: “Come back with the changes to the withdrawal agreement or it will be voted down.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster said she had told the prime minister in a phone call that the “backstop must go”.
Theresa May’s deal has been agreed with the EU – but it needs to be backed by the UK Parliament if it is to become law ahead of the UK’s departure.
May has also been speaking to EU leaders about re-opening the withdrawal agreement, something both sides have previously ruled out.
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said the EU would not renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement.
“As President Juncker said, this deal is the best and only deal possible,” she said.
The BBC’s Brussels reporter Adam Fleming said May was “trying get more legal oomph behind the language” in the withdrawal agreement about the EU using “best endeavours” to get a trade deal which would remove the need for the backstop to be used. – BBC