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'Give this deal a second look': May in last-ditch attempt to change minds ahead of crucial Brexit vote

There’s only one day to go before the crucial vote in the House of Commons.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

Updated Jan 14th 2019, 6:55 PM

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Theresa May has delivered a last-ditch attempt speech to the House of Commons ahead of tomorrow’s crucial Brexit vote. 

On the eve of the vote on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, May is looking likely to lose the vote, with an audit by the Guardian predicting she will lose by 423 votes to 216.

Tory MP Gareth Johnson also today resigned as the government whip. 

Speaking to the House of Commons this evening, May urged MPs to “give this deal a second look”. 

“No, it is not perfect and yes it is a compromise but when the history books are written, people will look at the decision of this house tomorrow and ask did we deliver on the country’s vote to leave the European Union, did we safeguard our economy, our security and our Union or did we let the British people down?” May said.

I say we should deliver for the British people and get on with building a brighter future for this country by backing this deal tomorrow.

Earlier today, the president of the European Council Donald Tusk and president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker published their “reassurance” letters to May. 

On the backstop, Juncker and Barnier said that if the backstop were to come into force that it would be a “suboptimal trading agreement for both sides”.

The letter also says that the Withdrawal Agreement and backstop “do not affect or supersede the provisions of the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement… in any way whatsoever”.

It also does not “extend regulatory alignment with European Union law in Northern Ireland beyond what is strictly necessary to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland”.

Speaking to the House this evening, May acknowledged that some MPs would like a unilateral exit mechanism or a solid end-date for the backstop. 

However, she admitted the EU would not agree to put a time limit on the backstop.

“The EU would not agree to this because they fear that such a provision could allow the UK to leave the backstop at any time without any other arrangements in place and require a hard border to be erected between Northern Ireland and Ireland,” May said. 

“I have been very clear with them that this is not something we would ever countenance, that the UK is steadfast in its commitment to the Belfast Agreement and would never allow a return to a hard border.”

She went on to describe the backstop as a “last resort”. 

Backstop worries

In an effort to soothe Brexiteers’ concerns about the timeframe of the backstop, the EU leaders confirm that the backstop would be temporary:

Were the backstop to enter into force in whole or in part, it is intended to apply only temporarily, unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement.

“The European Council also said that, if the backstop were nevertheless to be triggered (sic), it would only apply temporarily, unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement that ensures that a hard border is avoided.”

May told MPs in the House this evening that the best way to avoid a hard border is through sorting out the future relationship. 

She said that it is her “absolute conviction” that Britain can turn the “political declaration” agreed with the EU into legal text and avoid the need for the backstop. 

Speaking this evening about tomorrow’s vote in the House of Commons, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that he hoped the vote would pass but that he did not wish to interfere.

I hope the vote will be in favour, that the Withdrawal Agreement will be ratified by Westminster and we can get straight into talks on the future relationship. It is a matter for them and out of respect for their democratic institutions we should allow them to have their vote tomorrow and we’ll reassess.

“I don’t think it would be in Ireland’s interest for me to be interfering in their internal politics,” Varadkar said, adding that he has “no desire to threaten the union”.

Varadkar went on to say that he believes a no-deal Brexit is “unlikely” but that the government must be prepared nonetheless. 

I shouldn’t pretend to anyone that any country can be fully prepared for Brexit, there is no good Brexit and a no-deal Brexit will have a very significant impact on Ireland, Britain and Europe.

“We will be prepared, but I’m not going to say to you that everything is going to be fine, of course there will be interruptions and negative impact but we’ll be as prepared as we possibly can be.” 

With reporting by Gráinne Ní Aodha and Christina Finn

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