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Varadkar 'hopes and trusts' House of Commons will now pass Brexit deal after last-minute breakthrough

There’s been no actual change to the withdrawal agreement, but Theresa May has secured guarantees that might sway Brexiteers.

Image: Brian Lawless/PA Images

Updated Mar 12th 2019, 8:59 AM

THE HOUSE OF Commons will be the stage today as British MPs will vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, a day after she secured new assurances from the EU that may give her a chance of getting her deal passed.

It remains to be seen whether the new guarantees will be enough to sway Brexiteers within her own party and the DUP to back her Brexit deal.

Leo Varadkar had been due to travel to Washington, but remained in Dublin this morning.

The Taoiseach said that the new arrangements made do not change the withdrawal agreement or undermine the backstop, and the “doubts and fears” raised by Brexiteers can be put to bed.

He told reporters: “I hope and trust that the withdrawal agreement will now be endorsed by the House of Commons.”

Varadkar added that what has been agreed “reiterates our wish to have as close as possible a future relationship with the UK”. 

Chief among the guarantees is on the Irish backstop – the solution that would keep Northern Ireland closely aligned to EU trade rules and thus negate the need for a hard border in Ireland. 

The new guarantees say that every effort will be made to ensure the Irish backstop never needs to be enacted and measures through which any attempt to make the backstop apply indefinitely can be legally challenged.

Speaking last night at a joint press conference, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that the existing withdrawal agreement had not changed, but the guarantees given to the UK “complements the withdrawal agreement without reopening it”. 

“In politics sometimes you get a second chance, it is what we do with this second chance that counts because 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 [today].”

May, however, claimed that “legally binding changes” to the withdrawal agreement had been secured.

“Now is the time to come together, to back this improved Brexit deal, and to deliver on the instruction of the British people,” May said.

Meanwhile, there is uncertainty whether this will change the legal advice given to the UK government by its attorney general Geoffrey Cox.

Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow said a source had told him the legal world is aware that the attorney general said “no” to the validity of May’s new EU deal, and has been told to find a way to say yes to it. 

This was met with a bizarre tweet in reply by Cox himself, who said simply “bollocks”. 

bollocks

Labour has announced it will vote against the deal, and said the prime minister had “failed”. 

“This evening’s agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes Theresa May promised parliament,” said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

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Brexit hardliners from May’s Conservative Party and the DUP have said they will scrutinise the documents that have been agreed.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said this morning that he believes the new arrangements appear to “fall short” of what May has promised, but added that his party would reserve judgement until they heard the Attorney General’s advice.

It will take a major turnaround for May to get this deal through parliament, after it lost by a majority of 230 votes in January.

The vote is due to take place at around 7pm this evening. 

Another defeat would set the stage for additional votes in parliament this week that could postpone Brexit and possibly reverse it in the months to come.

If she loses the vote, May has promised to give MPs a vote tomorrow on whether Britain should simply leave without any deal at all.

If MPs would defeat the “no-deal” scenario, it would be followed on Thursday with a vote on requesting a delay from the EU.

With reporting from AFP

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Sean Murray

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