Will Monday’s changes secure support for May’s Brexit Deal?
Theresa May has called for MPs to “come together” to back her deal after claiming to have secured the legally binding changes parliament wanted to ensure the EU cannot trap the UK in the Irish backstop and a permanent customs union.
With MPs due to vote again on the deal Tuesday evening, it looks unlikely that the fruit of the prime minister’s negotiations will be enough to convince a skeptical House of Commons. Many Brexiteers have demanded the backstop be replaced entirely with alternative arrangements — something the prime minister’s negotiators failed to achieve. If the deal is voted down for a second time, following the defeat of historic proportions in January, then a delay to Brexit looks increasingly likely.
But European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned if the deal was voted down there was “no third chance”.
“This deal. This instrument. This arrangement. This treaty — is complementing the Withdrawal Agreement without reopening it,” said Juncker.
They spoke at a joint press conference in Strasbourg after a late meeting.
Juncker told reporters that a freshly negotiated legal add-on to the Brexit deal, emphasising the temporary nature of the Irish backstop, “complements the withdrawal agreement without reopening it”.
The commission president nevertheless rallied to May’s defence by warning MPs that Brussels would not be offering any further “reassurances or clarifications”.
He added that the new text was in “spirit and letter by letter” in accord with the EU’s commitment to an insurance policy from which he has repeatedly insisted neither side could unilaterally withdraw.
May confirmed there would be no alterations to the 585-page Withdrawal Agreement that was agreed with the EU back in November. Instead, a separate “legal instrument” of equal force to the document itself has been drawn up.
“In politics sometimes you get a second chance, it is what we do with this second chance that counts because there there will be no third chance,” Juncker said. “There will be no further interpretation of the interpretation. No further assurances on the reassurances if the meaningful vote fails tomorrow.”
Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington announced the changes to the Commons shortly before the press conference, saying they would mean the EU “cannot try to trap the UK in the [Irish] backstop indefinitely”.
The PM also said her attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, would publish his legal advice on the changes to the deal before the vote.
Asked whether she had secured those objectives in her 11th-hour dash to Strasbourg for talks with Juncker, May did not directly answer. “What we have secured is legally binding changes which is exactly what parliament asked us to secure,” she said.
“And what we have secured is very clearly that the backstop cannot be indefinite, cannot become permanent. It is temporary if it is the case that we were ever to get into the backstop.”
Lidington said the second document is a joint statement supplementing the political declaration, which outlines a number of commitments by the United Kingdom and the European Union to enhance and expedite the process of negotiating and bringing into force the future relationship – for example, it makes reference to the possibility of provisional application of such future agreement – and it sets out in detail how the specific negotiating track on alternative arrangements will operate.
Negotiations are continuing and the government will provide an update to the House at the earliest opportunity should there be further changes.
The House was clear on the need for legally-binding changes to the backstop. Today we have secured these changes. Now is the time to come together, to back this improved Brexit deal and deliver on the instruction of the British people.
Via POLITICO/BBC/The Guardian