MPs kicked off a raft of crunch Brexit votes tonight after Theresa May pleaded with them not to ‘tie her hands’ by voting to delay the UK’s departure date.
In a final message before the Commons showdown began, the PM admitted she must attempt to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement, and appealed for MPs to vote for an amendment that would give her a ‘mandate’ to demand the Irish border backstop is replaced.
But she also urged Tory Remainers to hold off rebelling to support a separate proposal from Yvette Cooper that could delay Brexit, insisting this will not be their ‘last chance’ to stop no deal.
‘I will never stop battling for Britain, but the odds of success become much longer if this House ties one hand behind my back,’ she said.
Speaker John Bercow has set the stage for a titanic showdown by accepting the PM-backed amendment tabled by senior Tory Sir Graham Brady, as well as Ms Cooper’s plan backed by Jeremy Corbyn.
The climbdown on reopening her Brexit package came after Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and the DUP signalled they will only support the Brady amendment tonight if Mrs May made the pledge.
The premier had been dodging explicitly saying the package she had thrashed out with Brussels would be fundamentally changed – instead suggesting there could be ‘legally binding’ add-ons.
Mrs May also vowed to look ‘seriously’ at a Plan C hammered out by pro-EU and Eurosceptic Tories – which would involve demanding a much looser backstop, and if that could not be agreed asking for a longer transition period to seal other trade arrangements. Brexiteers believe approving the Brady plan could be a first step towards securing their vision.
But the votes tonight are on a knife edge, with Parliament seemingly no closer to breaking the Brexit deadlock.
Even if the Brady amendment is passed, Mrs May’s leverage in negotiations with Brussels could be undermined if the Cooper plan is accepted by MPs.
The PM spoke on the phone to EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker this morning, although the bloc is already dismissing the idea of reopening the Withdrawal Agreement. Emmanuel Macron insisted the current deal was the ‘best’ available and ‘non-renegotiable’.
Theresa May (pictured in the Commons today) told MP the Withdrawal Agreement will be reopened as she faces a series of knife-edge votes that could decide the country’s future
The PM kicked off a dramatic showdown in the House of Commons this afternoon, with tempers running high as the future of the country hangs in the balance. Dominic Grieve (pictured speaking) has one of the key Remainer amendments
Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured left in the Commons today) is set to back the Prime Minister’s deal if she manages to renegotiate the Irish backstop. Mr Corbyn (right) said the PM must rule out no deal altogether
Boris Johnson (pictured in the Commons today) has been stepping up the pressure on Mrs May amid the Brexit endgame
Speaker John Bercow set the stage for a titanic showdown tonight by accepting the PM-backed amendment tabled by senior Tory Sir Graham Brady, as well as Ms Cooper’s Labour-backed plan
In another emotionally-charged day of high drama at Westminster:
- Mr Corbyn endorsed the bid by Ms Cooper that would pave the way for Brexit to be delayed if there is no deal by the end of February, saying he wanted Article 50 extended by three months;
- It emerged the EU is already preparing to reject the idea of reopening the Withdrawal Agreement, with a statement ready to be released if the Brady amendment goes through;
- French president Emmanuel Macron said the current deal was the ‘best agreement possible and is not renegotiable’;
- A close ally of Angela Merkel warned that the £39billion divorce bill could rise and Spain will make another grab for Gibraltar if the current agreement is not kept;
- Speaker John Bercow selected seven amendments including the one favoured by the government, despite fears he would ignore it;
Mrs May had been due to close the Brexit debate tonight with a final plea not to derail her strategy.
But instead she opened the session with a statement explaining why she is backing Sir Graham’s amendment as a means to achieving her goals of overhauling the backstop.
She warned MPs that they could not simply keep saying things were unacceptable. ‘We need to send a message about what we do want,’ she said.
Allies hope that a strong vote by MPs will give her ‘firepower’ to go back to Brussels and secure concessions that can satisfy the DUP and Brexiteers.
However, Mrs May is also facing a potentially catastrophic challenge from the Remainer wing of her party – which has been pushing her to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
The premier has been trying to reassure MPs that they will have another chance to stop the UK crashing out, and do not need to support the Cooper amendment, which would dramatically reduce her leverage in talks with the EU.
How will the latest dramatic Commons Brexit battle unfold?
The House of Commons has started the latest of its high-stakes debates on Brexit.
Here is a rough timetable of how events will unfold over the coming hours.
Voting starts. Each division takes around 20 minutes, and the amendments will be taken in this order:
Labour – Calling for no deal to be ruled out, and making clear a second referendum should be on the table if the Commons passes a deal.
The SNP – Complains that Scotland does not support Brexit.
Dominic Grieve – Would set up a series of indicative votes in parliament for MPs to set the way forward.
Yvette Cooper – Tears up parliamentary procedure so a law could be passed by MPs next month delaying the Brexit date.
Rachel Reeves – Calls for an extension of Article 50, but does not necessary bind the government.
Caroline Spelman – Rules out no deal Brexit, but would not be binding on government.
Graham Brady – Endorses May’s plan on the condition that the backstop is replaced with ‘alternative arrangements’.
Mrs May said she will return to the Commons ‘as soon as possible’ with a revised deal which will be subject to a ‘meaningful vote’ by MPs.
If this is rejected by MPs, she will table a further amendable motion for debate the next day.
If no new deal has been reached with the EU by February 13, Mrs May will make a statement to the House that day and table an amendable motion for
Despite what she acknowledged was a ‘limited appetite’ in Europe for reopening talks, she insisted: ‘I believe with a mandate from this House… I can secure such a change in advance of our departure from the EU.’
The amendment from Sir Graham – the chair of the influential Tory backbench 1922 Committee – was one of seven selected by Mr Bercow for consideration and possible votes on Tuesday evening.
Also up for debate is a cross-party proposal from Ms Cooper and Tory Nick Boles – backed by the Labour frontbench – which would hand control over the Brexit process to Parliament, potentially delaying departure day from March 29 to the end of the year.
Mr Bercow also selected Mr Corbyn’s own amendment – which would allow debate on Labour’s preferred plan or a second referendum – as well as others which would rule out a no-deal Brexit, extend the two-year negotiation under Article 50 or permit a series of ‘indicative votes’ to establish the will of the Commons.
In an attempt to fend off possible rebellion by Tories seeking to avoid a no-deal departure, Mrs May promised that the votes would not be MPs’ final chance to pass judgment on EU withdrawal.
She told the Commons she aims to return to the House ‘as soon as possible’ with a revised deal, which will be subject to a ‘meaningful vote’ of MPs. If defeated, she will table another amendable motion for debate the following day.
If no new deal is reached by February 13, the PM will make a statement to Parliament that day and table an amendable motion for debate the following day.
Mrs May acknowledged that the Commons defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement she agreed with EU leaders last November had been ‘decisive’. And she told MPs: ‘I listened.’
It was in the interests of the whole House to back the Brady amendment, which would resolve the main obstacle to Britain securing a smooth and orderly exit from the EU, she said.
Mrs May said it was time for Parliament to ‘speak as one’.
‘I call on this House to give me the mandate I need to deliver a deal this House can support.
‘Do that and I can work to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement. Do that and I can fight for a backstop that honours our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland in a way this House can support. Do that and we can leave the EU with a deal that honours the result of the referendum.
‘So the time has come for words to be matched by deeds. If you want to tell Brussels what this House will accept, you have to vote for it. If you want to leave with a deal, you have to vote for it. If you want Brexit, you have to vote for Brexit.’
She warned those considering voting for the ‘cacophony’ of rival amendments to rule out no-deal: ‘Unless we are to end up with no Brexit at all, the only way to avoid no-deal is to agree a deal.
‘That is why I want to go back to Brussels with the clearest possible mandate to secure a deal that this House can support. That means sending the clearest possible message not about what this House does not want but what we do want.’
Sir Graham said after the Withdrawal Agreement was defeated there was a ‘fashionable idea that there was simply nothing that the House could agree on’.
He told MPs: ‘I don’t believe that is true, and what I hope to demonstrate with my amendment today is that there is an agreement which can win majority support in the House of Commons.
‘And by voting for amendment, we can send the Prime Minister back to Brussels to negotiate having strengthened her hand.’
Father of the House Ken Clarke described Brexit as an almost ‘unique political crisis’ with MPs facing a constitutional crisis about the credibility of Government and Parliament in its ability to resolve such matters.
He said: ‘I think we ought to be aware that the public at the moment are looking upon our political system with something rather near to contempt.’
Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said he had voted against the Prime Minister’s deal, but would now support the Brady amendment.
He said: ‘I do believe it is necessary for us now to send the Prime Minister back with a fair wind and a sense that this House has agreed that they want her to go and renegotiate and to take that change and that desire to deliver Brexit on time on (the) 29th, with her over there to Brussels, and achieve what I hope and believe with strength and with determination she will be able to achieve in those negotiations.
‘I wish her well and I therefore am voting tonight to support that amendment because I think it will be for me the greatest expression of my goodwill for a Prime Minister, that, not withstanding sometimes our disagreements, I have the greatest respect for.’
Tonight’s seven amendments: What plans are on the table and how likely are they to pass?
MPs face a choice of seven Plan Bs for Brexit in the Commons tonight as the Government scrambles for a way forward on Brexit.
Theresa May has endorsed a plan from Tory Sir Graham Brady demanding changes to the backstop in the divorce deal.
The hope is securing a majority for the demand would show Brussels the deal can pass if the backstop is legally time limited.
Remain supporters are pushing a plan from Yvette Cooper to block no deal by delaying Brexit if there is not an agreement by February 26.
There are other amendments from Tory Dominic Grieve, Tory Caroline Spelman, Labour’s Rachel Reeves, plus Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and SNP leader Ian Blackford.
Votes will start at 7pm and are expected to take up to two hours – meaning in theory there could be clarity by 9pm.
It is possible MPs could reject everything and leave Westminster engulfed in renewed chaos.
SIR GRAHAM BRADY’S PLAN TO FIX THE BACKSTOP BY DEMANDING CHANGES FROM THE EU – BACKED BY MAY
WHAT IT DOES: Proposes replacing the Northern Ireland backstop with ‘alternative arrangements’ to avoid a hard border. Also supports leaving with a deal.
WHOSE PLAN? Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee.
HOW IT WORKS: Allows Mrs May to go to Brussels and say the EU must make concessions on the backstop or get rid of it.
COULD IT SUCCEED? Possibly. The Government is ordering Tory MPs to vote for it and the DUP are also expected to vote yes.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT? Mrs May would go to Brussels and say changing the backstop would save her deal.
YVETTE COOPER’S PLAN TO DELAY BREXIT IF THERE IS NOT A DEAL
WHAT IT DOES: Forces ministers to extend Article 50 beyond March 29 to stop No Deal.
WHOSE PLAN? Labour’s Yvette Cooper, former Tory ministers Nick Boles and Sir Oliver Letwin.
HOW IT WORKS: Ministers lose the power to decide what is debated on February 5, which passes to backbench MPs. Miss Cooper proposes a law forcing Mrs May to ask for a delay on Brexit if No Deal is agreed by February 26.
COULD IT SUCCEED? Labour will back it and with enough votes from Tory rebels, yes.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT? Mrs May would lose control of Brexit with No Deal off the table
DOMINIC GRIEVE’S PLAN TO HAND POWER TO MPS
WHAT IT DOES: Give control over Parliamentary business to MPs.
WHOSE PLAN? Dominic Grieve QC, former attorney general and ardent Remainer, and MPs who want a second referendum.
HOW IT WORKS: Government loses power over the Commons every Tuesday from February 12 to March 26 so backbench MPs could vote on Brexit. Could delay Article 50 or change the deal to include a customs union or second referendum.
COULD IT SUCCEED? Could pass with the support of pro-Remain Tories, Labour backing.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT? A second referendum would be the most likely outcome
DAME CAROLINE SPELMAN’S PLAN TO RULE OUT NO DEAL
WHAT IT DOES: Stops the UK leaving without a deal.
WHOSE PLAN: Former Tory Cabinet minister Caroline Spelman and Labour MP Jack Dromey.
HOW IT WORKS: Rejects No Deal.
COULD IT SUCCEED? Yes if enough Tory MPs vote for it.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT? Mrs May’s main bargaining chip would be gone – likely second referendum.
RACHEL REEVES’ PLAN TO DELAY BREXIT IF THERE IS NO DEAL
WHAT IT DOES: Just like the Cooper plan, this demands the Government ask for an extension to Article 50 if there is no deal by February 26 – but does so only in political terms without trying to change the law.
WHOSE PLAN: Labour MP Rachel Reeves
HOW IT WORKS? Makes a political statement to put pressure on the Government.
COULD IT SUCCEED? Unlikely as it no public support from Tory MPs. Could get over the top by accident if Remain Tories vote for it anyway.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT? Mrs May’s main bargaining chip would be limited by a new deadline – hampering her hopes of changing the deal.
JEREMY CORBYN’S PLAN TO FUDGE THE VOTE BY DEMANDING CHANGE BUT HINTING AT A REFERENDUM
WHAT IT DOES: Demands changes to the deal and hints at a second referendum.
WHOSE PLAN? Corbyn, Labour frontbench.
HOW IT WORKS: Ministers must let Parliament discuss No Deal, and proposes staying in a permanent customs union. If that fails, it suggests a second referendum.
COULD IT SUCCEED? Highly unlikely, because it won’t win support from Tory rebels.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT? A second referendum would become the most likely outcome of Brexit.
IAN BLACKFORD’S PLAN TO MAKE A POINT ABOUT SCOTLAND
WHAT IT DOES: Notes that the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Commons all voted against the deal and Scotland voted Remain
WHOSE PLAN? SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford
HOW IT WORKS: Makes a political declaration about Scotland’s right to determine its own future.
COULD IT SUCCEED? No.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT? Nothing.
Mrs May clashed with Jeremy Corbyn (pictured top centre) as he called for Article 50 to be extended by three months
Labour’s Yvette Cooper has tabled a plan that could give Parliament control and allow MPs to delay the Brexit process
Mr Johnson said earlier that he would ‘gladly support the Brady amendment’ if Mrs May made a commitment to rewrite the Withdrawal Agreement.
Mr Rees-Mogg and the DUP have also lined up behind the plan in the light of the PM’s words.
Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said in the House that he had voted against Mrs May’s deal, but would now support the Brady amendment.
He said: ‘I do believe it is necessary for us now to send the Prime Minister back with a fair wind and a sense that this House has agreed that they want her to go and renegotiate and to take that change and that desire to deliver Brexit on time… with her over there to Brussels, and achieve what I hope and believe with strength and with determination she will be able to achieve in those negotiations.’
However, it is thought that after backing the amendment the hard Brexiteers will then try to force their own ‘Plan C’ through.
The scheme has been engineered by Brexiteers including Mr Rees-Mogg and Remainers such as Nicky Morgan.
It has been branded the ‘Malthouse Compromise’ because it was brokered by minister Kit Malthouse – would see the UK honour its £39billion divorce payment in return for an extended Brexit transition lasting until the end of 2021.
Remainer MPs’ bid to delay Brexit on a knife edge ahead of vote
Theresa May is attempting to fend off a bid by Remainer MPs to delay Brexit – with the result ‘on a knife-edge’.
MPs will vote tonight on an amendment deal that would pave the way for Parliament to order an extension of Article 50.
The move, led by Labour’s Yvette Cooper, has been publicly backed by 10 Tories.
Jeremy Corbyn has announced he will order his MPs to back the plan.
However, a number of Opposition politicians have indicated they will vote against it regardless.
Mrs May also seems to have headed off a revolt by up to 40 ministers who were threatening to quit to support it.
They included Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd – but friends have now said she will vote against the plan.
Amid frantic lobbying by both sides, Mrs May has promised that MPs will get another chance to avert a no-deal Brexit before the end of March.
Ms Cooper has risked accusations of hypocrisy after her 2017 election campaign leaflet emerged in which she boasted that she had backed triggering Article 50.
This would allow time to thrash out a free trade deal and work out an ‘acceptable’ solution to the Irish border issue that would avoid ‘hard’ checks.
In a message on a Tory WhatsApp group, Boris Johnson described the proposed peace deal as ‘a breakthrough’, adding: ‘I really hope the government adopt this as soon as possible.’
In the Commons, Mrs May said the group had put forward ‘a serious proposal that we are engaging with sincerely and positively’.
She added: ‘We will sit down and work through the proposal that has come forward.’ Some Remainers, however, warned it was most likely to result in a no-deal Brexit.
Questions were immediately raised over the idea’s chances of success, after some Remainers gave it short shrift.
Tory backbencher Anna Soubry said: ‘The prospect of the EU ripping up the Withdrawal Agreement or allowing a transition period without the backstop is very remote – and for good reason given the risks to the Irish peace process.
‘Instead, this scheme backed by Jacob Rees-Mogg is a recipe for the no-deal Brexit that the hard Brexiters have always craved.’
Former minster Guto Bebb said: ‘It is nonsense on stilts to think that that can actually be a way forward at this point in time.’
The Brady amendment is supported by some Labour Leave backers. But they could be outweighed by Tory rebels.
During bruising Commons clashes today, ex-attorney general Dominic Grieve attacked the proposal as ‘displacement activity’.
The Tory MP for Beaconsfield, whose own amendment will also be voted on tonight said: ‘It’s very tempting to be told you should just vote for (the Brady) amendment N and send some message that we could just be very close to resolving our disagreements with the EU and doing it collectively.
‘I do fear that what we’re being asked to do this evening in supporting amendment N is a piece of displacement activity, something which I’m afraid this House has specialised in over the last two-and-a-half years.
‘Firstly it’s quite clear the EU will not negotiate on it, although I do accept that if you don’t ask you don’t get.
‘Secondly even if we were to get the backstop removed… there is a lack of trust about future intention which makes the 29th March completely irrelevant, because the truth is disputes will arise immediately afterwards about the nature of our state and how we relate to those around us.’
Mrs May is also battling Remainers in her cabinet including Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd and Justice Secretary David Gauke, who say she has a fortnight to get her deal done or they will quit to prevent the no deal Brexit.
Mrs May had an extraordinary row with Mr Johnson last night after he tried to derail attempts to save her Brexit deal.
Mrs May and Chancellor Philip Hammond (right) taunted Mr Corbyn as he attacked the government’s position on Brexit
Protesters had gathered outside the Houses of Parliament tonight as the moment of truth on the votes approached
The colourful protests appeared to be largely good natured, but there was no doubt about the passion about the Brexit issues
In a dramatic clash, the PM rounded on her leadership rival when he openly questioned her strategy during a tense meeting of Tory MPs in the Commons.
With Labour threatening to back bids to delay or even block Brexit, Mrs May appealed to her MPs for unity after months of damaging infighting – prompting Mr Johnson to openly challenge her authority.
As astonished MPs looked on, the former foreign secretary questioned her decision to back a Commons amendment by Tory grandee Sir Graham Brady, which would demand that Brussels find ‘alternative arrangements’ to the hated Irish backstop.
According to witnesses, Mr Johnson directly challenged the PM, asking her: ‘What DO you want, Prime Minister? What will this amendment achieve?’
In a withering response, Mrs May hit back, saying: ‘We won’t know unless you support us Boris.’
As loyalist MPs cheered her on, she added: ‘I am happy to battle away Boris – get behind me and we’ll do it together.’
One MP said: ‘She gave Boris some straight advice – and, frankly, he deserved it.’
After the clash, Tory chairman Brandon Lewis told reporters: ‘Boris asked a question and got a very clear answer from the PM.’
The clash came after Mrs May confirmed Tory MPs would be ordered to back Sir Graham’s amendment tonight, despite opposition from hardline Brexiteers in the European Research Group.
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, one of several cabinet members expected to quit if the PM edges towards No Deal, arrives in Downing Street this morning
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes arrives in Downing Street for a crunch cabinet meeting followed by Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Stephen Barclay
Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth, Claire Perry, walked into Downing Street this morning
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley smiles at photographers shortly after International Trade Secretary Liam Fox arrives at cabinet
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Home Secretary Sajid Javid (both pictured today) have both said that Mrs May’s deal is the only one on the table
Minutes earlier, ERG chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg had told journalists his members would not support Sir Graham’s plan.
A Cabinet minister accused the ERG of trying to wreck Brexit, telling the Mail: ‘The PM is bending over backwards to accommodate them but they are still saying no. It is becoming clearer by the day that some of them will say no to everything – they want No Deal.’
Earlier, moderate MPs had warned that Brexit ‘ultras’ were in danger of derailing hopes of an orderly Brexit and splitting the Conservative Party.
George Freeman said: ‘Public patience with all this is wearing dangerously thin.’
Former minister Nick Boles, who is campaigning to stop a no deal Brexit, said Sir Graham had already been shot down by ‘hardliners’ who are ‘hellbent on a no-deal Brexit. Nothing else will do’.
MPs are set to vote on a range of different plans for the way forward on Brexit – with proposals to frustrate a no deal or delay Brexit altogether most likely to pass