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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 18 February, 2020


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TONIGHT, THE UK parliament had the chance to vote on seven proposed amendments to Theresa May’s defeated Withdrawal Agreement.

British Prime Minister’s Brexit deal was rejected by 230 votes two weeks ago; MPs are now trying to take over the Brexit process from May’s government, and dictate what happens next.

Some of the amendments – such as the Brady amendment and the Malthouse amendment – proposed changes to the Irish backstop, which the Irish government previously described as a watertight guarantee from the British government that a hard border would not reappear on the island of Ireland because of Brexit.

We covered the developments from before the crucial votes began 7pm, and as reaction came in to the decision from MPs to back the Brady amendment. 

Here’s how it unfolded.

Before we begin, let’s talk about the amendments on offer, and why they’re politically powerful, but carry no legal clout.

There is no obligation for any amendments that are approved tonight to be adopted by the UK government – but it could put pressure on the European Union to tweak the deal in order to avoid the UK “crashing out”.

This is despite reports from Brexit correspondent Tony Connolly reporting this evening that Jean-Claude Juncker told Theresa May at 12pm today there would be no reopening of the Irish backstop or the Withdrawal Agreement.

It’s also not certain that all seven amendments chosen by House Speaker John Bercow will be voted on tonight. 

On the day that the Withdrawal Agreement was historically defeated, just three of the four amendments were voted on, as those who introduced the amendments chose not to put them forward for a vote. 

The one amendment that was voted on – one that would give the UK the power to withdraw from the Irish backstop unilaterally – was rejected by 600 votes to 24.

Among the most likely to be approved are two on the Irish backstop:

Amndt n Source: UK parliament

Another amendment on the backstop, amendment (k), proposes that it “will not approve a Withdrawal Agreement which includes a Northern Ireland backstop”.

You can also follow our Liveblog, obviously, as we will be collate all the results, reactions, and more colourful clips from a particularly lively House of Commons.

Speaking of colourful, here’s the latest from the brilliant Ian Dunt.

And they’re off.

House of Commons a

MPs have begun voting on Jeremy Corbyn’s amendment (a), which “requires ministers to secure sufficient time for the UK Parliament to consider and vote on options to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a ratified Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration”.

Just as voting starts – staunch Brexiteers have turned heads elsewhere.

The ERG group, which includes senior pro-Brexit MPs such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, has announced that it will back the Brady amendment.

A reminder of what that is:

At end, add “and requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border; supports leaving the European Union with a deal and would therefore support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change”.

MP for Wycombe Steve Baker has said on behalf of the ERG:

We have collectively agreed to support Brady on the basis of the Prime Minister’s promises, especially reopening the Withdrawal Agreement, and that the backstop is only the worst problem.

The Irish government won’t be happy with that.

Speaking of the Irish Government, our political correspondent Christina Finn has the latest from the Cabinet meeting – Leo had a chat with Theresa May today.

In relation to the votes in Westminster, the government is holding its cards close to its chest, with the government spokesperson stating they will allow Westminster “take its course” this evening.

Once the votes have taken place, a statement from the Irish government is expected to follow. Leo Varadkar received communications by phone today from Theresa May, which was described as “brief” and merely outlined that further communications by way of a phone call will take place later this evening.

It is understood the Taoiseach has been waiting to hear from the UK Prime Minister for about a week, before those brief communications were received today. The government spokesperson said: “Everyone would like to see clarity.”

However, he added that the Irish government’s position remains the same – “there is only one deal on the table – the withdrawal agreement – that remains the EU position as well”.

He added that no one has come up with an alternative to the backstop.

As expected, Corbyn’s amendment is defeated.

  • Ayes: 296
  • Nos: 327

Onto the next one.

The House of Commons is now voting on amendment (o) tabled by the Scottish National Party’s Ian Blackford.

This proposes a few changes, mainly that because Scotland voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum, that Scotland will not leave on the 29 March. 

Line 1, leave out from “House” to end and add “notes that the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and House of Commons all voted overwhelmingly to reject the Prime Minister’s deal; calls for the Government to seek an extension of the period specified under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union; agrees a No Deal outcome should be ruled out; and recognises that if the UK is an equal partnership of nations, the 62% vote to remain at the EU referendum on 23 June 2016 in Scotland should be respected and that the people of Scotland should not be taken out of the EU against their will.”

It won’t pass.

John Bercow confirms that Blackford’s suggestion has been heavily defeated.

  • Ayes – 39
  • Nos – 337

ERG chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg is speaking to Sky News as the third vote continues.

In the end all decisions have a compromise… I want Brexit to be delivered and if that means compromises, then so be it. The backstop meant we didn’t get Brexit.

When asked on what the alternative arrangements would be, Rees-Mogg refers to a document and tells the Sky News presenter to look at it.

“You must forgive me I must go and vote against Mr Grieve’s dangerous amendment,” Rees-Mogg says from the depths of the House of Commons.

A courteous put down. 

Let’s have a look at Mr Grieve’s “dangerous amendment”.

Amendment (g):

amendment g Source: UK parliament

This proposes that the House of Commons hold six days throughout February and March for MPs to debate and vote on Brexit, the last day that you could hold the debate being 26 March – just three days before Brexit. 

Votes are in on Dominic Grieve’s amendment – it was a close one, but no cigar (will the UK have less/more expensive cigars in the event of a no-deal Brexit?)

  • Ayes: 301
  • Nos: 321


Labour Party annual conference 2017 Source: Empics Entertainment

Next up to be voted on: amendment (b).

Proposed by Labour MP Yvette Cooper, it would mean that if there is no deal by 26 February, the government must delay Britain’s departure from the bloc by nine months until 31 December 2019.

After a close vote on the Grieve amendment, this could get over the line.

Meanwhile as a political storm brews inside Westminster, a snowstorm starts outside.

Now is the winter of our discontent, yadda yadda.

We have discontent, passion… but indifference is a new one in the House of Commons.

And still, we even have that.

“I’m past caring what the deal is. I will vote for it,” Oliver Letwin told the House of Commons right before MPs voted.

Hear ye, hear ye: The results of the Yvette Cooper amendment are in.

  • Ayes – 298
  • Nos – 321

Quite a resounding defeat there.

House Speaker John Bercow shouts “DIVISION!” before MPs jump up to vote.

Can’t help wondering if that is an eerie forecast of what is in store for Ireland and the future of the backstop.

Dominic Raab, a former Brexit Secretary, is speaking to Sky News.

He said that renegotiating the backstop was “not a question of whether they can do it, but a question of whether they want to do it”.

He added that it was a question of political will, referring to conversations he had with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier during his tenure in office.

Important statements as support for an amendment to replace the Irish backstop gathers support at the 11th hour.

Channel 4 has confirmed Tony Connolly’s report from earlier that Theresa May was told the EU would not renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement – BEFORE she indicated otherwise to the House of Commons.

The results to the Reeves amendment is in – that’s amendment (j)

  • Aye – 290
  • No – 322

Here’s what was rejected:

At end, add “and, in the event that the House of Commons has not passed a resolution approving the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 by 26 February 2019, requires the Prime Minister to seek an extension to the period of two years specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union.”.

The Spelman amendment is the second last vote we’ll have tonight. It has a chance of passing.

giphy (4)

In short, it rules out leaving the EU without a deal.

At end, add “and rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship.”

There is a growing sentiment among pro-Brexit demonstrators and voters to leave the EU without a deal – but this contrasts with the views in the House of Commons, as most MPs are averse to leaving without a deal. 

Earlier today, the Irish government outlined that there would be fewer jobs and listed the WTO tariffs that would be introduced in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The Spelman amendment results are in… and we have our first approved amendment.


  • Ayes – 318 
  • Nos – 310

Some of the immediate reaction to that amendment passing: “that is odd”, “setback for Theresa May”.

We’re onto the final amendment, which is the one that is most likely to pass.

Amendment (n) by Sir Graham Brady suggests replacing the Irish backstop with unspecified “alternative arrangements” that would avoid a hard border.

MPs hope that if this amendment is passed, it will give Theresa May extra firepower to tweak her Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

This is big – the Irish government will be paying close attention to this one. Results iminent.

Here’s the wording:

At end, add “and requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border; supports leaving the European Union with a deal and would therefore support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change.”

The Brady amendment has passed. 

  • Aye – 317
  • No – 301

There were roars of approval just before the results were announced.

Theresa May is speaking to the House of Commons after that vote.

She said “it won’t be easy” going back to the EU asking to alter the Withdrawal Agreement, to the sound of jeers and shouting.

She asks Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to meet her, to which he replies and says he will.

SNP’s Ian Blackford has just told the House of Commons that voting for the Brady amendment “has ripped apart the Good Friday Agreement”.

He says that the House has reneged on the backstop and reneged on the Good Friday Agreement.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds is speaking in the House of Commons.

He says he opposes statements that say this vote “drives a horse and coach through the Good Friday Agreement”, to many cheers from MPs (it’s important to note that the DUP opposed the Good Friday Agreement itself).

“For the first time the House by a majority has expressed the sort of deal that will get through and will have a majority,” he says, and adds he’ll work with May to progress this sentiment further.  

A spokesperson for EU Council President Donald Tusk has reacted to the vote tonight:

The backstop is part of the Withdrawal Agreement, and the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for re-negotiation.

Seán Murray here, taking over from Gráinne Ní Aodha.

And we have the Irish government’s reaction to Westminster vote just in. And it’s adamant nothing will be renegotiated.

The government said: “The EU position on the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, is set out in the conclusions of the December meeting of the European Council. It has not changed.

The Withdrawal Agreement is not open for re-negotiation.

“The Agreement is a carefully negotiated compromise, which balances the UK position on customs and the single market with avoiding a hard border and protecting the integrity of the EU customs union and single market.

The best way to ensure an orderly withdrawal is to ratify this Agreement.

“We have consistently said that we want the closest possible future relationship between the EU and the UK. A change in the UK red lines could lead to a change in the Political Declaration on the framework for the future relationship, and a better overall outcome.

We will continue our preparations for all outcomes, including for a no-deal scenario.

So to recap… MPs voted tonight in favour of a Brexit withdrawal agreement that doesn’t include the backstop. 

But the existing Brexit withdrawal agreement does include a backstop.

Theresa May now has a mandate from her parliament to go back to the EU and try to renegotiate a deal that doesn’t include a backstop.

Ireland and the EU have said any such renegotiation isn’t gonna happen. 

Who’ll blink first?

The Brexiteers are certainly happy with tonight’s result.

Boris Johnson was asked on Sky News about Donald Tusk’s statement.

He said it wasn’t surprising that the EU is resisting compromise at this point.

So why the bullishness of the Brexiteers on this one?

Sir Graham Brady, who put forward the amendment, said it would give May “enormous firepower” to go back to Brussels and renegotiate the Brexit divorce deal.

In effect, it’s giving May the chance to go to Brussels and say something along the lines of “look, this is the only kind of Brexit that parliament will agree on”, and hope the EU bends to avoid the UK crashing out without a deal.

A no-deal Brexit would be bad for the UK, but also bad for many of its neighbours around the EU – not least Ireland as Paschal Donohoe said today

All along, however, the Irish government and the EU have been in solidarity over a) the current withdrawal agreement and b) the backstop. 

If the position of the EU is maintained, then the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit will continue to loom large.

Sky News’ political editor Faisal Islam had this succinct analysis earlier on about why proceedings tonight may have actually made a no-deal Brexit much more likely.

Currently lost for words, courtesy of this nugget from Guardian political correspondent Jessica Elgot.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has been sharply critical in her reaction to the Commons vote tonight.

Boris Johnson is continuing the press rounds.

He’s now told the BBC that the passing of the amendment is “terrific”, and that the EU will be “compelled” to renegotiate.

And with that, we’ll bring an end to tonight’s liveblog.

A night when everything changed (MPs finally reaching a majority on some kind of Brexit deal – one that eliminates the backstop – clearing the way for May to renegotiate with Brussels).

And also nothing changed (Ireland and the EU stayed united and said renegotiations would not be happening).

The next few days will see how this plays out but, with precious little time until the Brexit date of 29 March, this could yet be only a temporary reprieve for Theresa May.

Thanks for joining us, and good night!

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