Brexit: Theresa May delays ‘meaningful vote’ again

Theresa May has delayed a second vote on her Brexit deal, leaving it until as late as 12 March for MPs to decide whether to accept the agreement or put the UK on a path to a no-deal exit from the EU.
Theresa May. Picture: House of Commons/PA WireTheresa May. Picture: House of Commons/PA Wire
Theresa May. Picture: House of Commons/PA Wire

The Prime Minister confirmed she would not put a deal before parliament in Brexit votes this week, sparking condemnation from opposition leaders and her own MPs and risking the resignation of ministers who have insisted Mrs May rule out a no-deal scenario.

With MPs set to vote on a proposal to extend Article 50 if an agreement hasn’t been approved by mid-March, it also puts huge pressure on Brexiteers, who could face a decision between Mrs May’s deal and a delay to Brexit.

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Speaking on her way to an EU-League of Arab States summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, 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 happens by March 12.

“But it is still within our grasp to leave the European Union with a deal on March 29.”

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Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the decision was “the height of irresponsibility and an admission of failure”.

“Theresa May is recklessly running down the clock in a desperate attempt to force MPs to choose between her deal and no deal,” Mr Starmer said. “Parliament cannot stand by and allow this to happen.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the decision showed “Westminster is failing Scotland”.

“Theresa May’s attempts to run down the clock on Brexit must be stopped – for the Tory party to gamble with the country’s future like this threatens a major economic catastrophe,” Mr Blackford said.

The announcement was greeted with despair by business leaders, who backed a delay to Article 50.

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Edwin Morgan, the interim director general of the Institute of Directors said firms had “lost all faith in the political process”.

“With today’s announcement, it’s clear the writing is on the wall. There appears to be little realistic chance of a deal being agreed and the necessary legislation getting through by 29 March,” he said.

“It now seems hard to envisage an exit without a limited, technical extension to allow time for parliament to finalise our exit.

“There is too much at stake to run down the clock and risk an accidental no deal.”

There was also criticism from Remain-supporting Tories, with the MP Nick Boles saying there was “no reason to believe the PM will achieve anything in next two weeks that she hasn’t in last two months.”

Focus will now turn to an amendment proposed by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tory Oliver Letwin, which sets a deadline of 13 March for a deal to be agreed - one day before the cut-off set by the Prime Minister.

If the amendment is passed when MPs vote on a government ‘neutral motion’ on Wednesday, it would begin a process backed by legislation requiring the Prime Minister to ask the EU to delay Brexit.

Mrs May now faces a major rebellion by pro-EU Tories who oppose a no-deal Brexit, potentially including some of her most senior ministers.

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Three cabinet ministers - Work and Pension Secretary Amber Rudd, Business Secretary Greg Clark, and Justice Secretary David Gauke - warned on Saturday that unless a deal was agreed imminently, MP would be forced to back the Cooper-Letwin amendment.

“It would be better to seek to extend Article 50 and delay our date of departure rather than crash out of the European Union on March 29,” the ministers said.

Responding to their comments on the flight to Egypt on Sunday, Mrs May insisted collective Cabinet responsibility had not broken down.

“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,” the Prime Minister said. “That is not a surprise to anybody.

“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.”

Mrs May did not respond when asked if the three ministers should remain in government, but said extending Article 50 would not break the deadlock over Brexit.

“Often people talk about the extension of Article 50 as if that will actually solve the issue. Of course it won’t. It defers the point of decision. There comes a point where we need to make that decision.

“Extension of Article 50 doesn’t solve the problem.

“There will always come a point where we have to decide whether we accept the deal that’s been negotiated or not.”