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Kirsty Wigglesworth via PA Images British Prime Minister Theresa May making a speech in central London on her latest Brexit plans.
Groundhog Day

New Brexit plan: May loses support as she gives MPs a shot at second referendum

“The biggest problem with Britain today is its politics,” May said today.

LAST UPDATE | May 21st 2019, 10:35 PM

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Theresa May has revealed the details of her new Brexit plan, calling it a “significant” and “serious” offer – but some MPs aren’t happy. 

As part of her new Brexit strategy, May said that although she didn’t think there should be a second referendum, that MPs will get a vote on whether the Brexit deal should be put to the people in a vote.

The statement was given this afternoon, following the collapse of talks with the Labour party on Friday. For weeks, May’s Cabinet and Labour have tried to find a Brexit both sides want in order to get some type of Brexit deal through the UK parliament. 

The current draft Brexit deal, negotiated between Theresa May’s officials and the EU, has been rejected by MPs three times in three months. Rebel Tories have voiced opposition to the Northern Ireland backstop, which would leave the region under some EU rules in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

What was promised

May said that although it was “not possible to replace backstop in Withdrawal Agreement”, she said the government would be placed under “a legal obligation to seek to conclude alternative arrangements” to the Irish border issue by December 2020.

She said that she had also listened to unionist concerns about the backstop, and said that should backstop come into force, the British government “will ensure that Great Britain will stay aligned with Northern Ireland”.

We will prohibit the proposal that a future Government could split Northern Ireland off from the UK’s customs territory.

The Stormont Assembly would also have to get cross-community agreement “for new regulations which are added to the backstop”.

May said that these were “significant further changes to protect integrity of the UK”, and was a “bespoke solution that answers all parts of community in Northern Ireland”.

Those are two of ten points in May’s Brexit plan: the rest include seeking “as close to frictionless trade in goods with the EU as possible while outside the single market and ending free movement”.

There would also be a “custom compromise” from the Government for MPs to decide on to break the deadlock, and a vote for MPs on whether the deal should be subject to a referendum.

May also promised to enshrine workers’ rights in a new bill that would retain the rights on par with EU rules, and also said a new independent environment watchdog would be set up.

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill will be published in the next few days, she added.


This is expected to be May’s final attempt to break the Brexit impasse before she has to set out a timeline for her departure and make way for a new Tory leader.

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has already said he would go for the leadership. Earlier today, Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said he would not be putting his name forward, but would back Johnson in a leadership contest.

In response to May’s offer today, Rees-Mogg said a no-deal Brexit was his preferred option:

“The Prime Minister’s latest proposals are worse than before and would leave us bound deeply in to the EU. It is time to leave on WTO terms.”

Johnson has this evening tweeted that he would not support the new version of the deal, having voted for it the last time it was put to parliament. 

“The Bill is directly against our manifesto – and I will not vote for it. We can and must do better – and deliver what the people voted for,” he said, rejecting the idea of any customs union or second referendum.

Echoing these comments, former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab dismissed May’s latest plan. 

“I listened carefully to the PM’s speech on the govt’s revised terms of Brexit,” Raab tweeted. 

“I cannot support legislation that would be the vehicle for a second referendum or Customs Unions. Either option would frustrate rather than deliver Brexit – and make out clear manifesto promises,” he said. 

A number of other MPs are similarly unimpressed:

The DUP has also expressed dissatisfaction with the proposals.

“We will examine the legislation closely when the bill is finally published but the fundamental flaws of the draft Withdrawal Agreement treaty itself remain unchanged,” DUP parliamentary leader Nigel Dodds said.

The people will have their opportunity on Thursday [when the European elections are being held in the UK] to tell the government, the European Commission and those in other member states that we must have a Brexit in which all of the UK leaves the EU together.

Other key quotes from May

Although she dodged questions about her leadership and when she would depart, May revealed how difficult the process has been:

I knew delivering Brexit would not be simple or straightforward.

She said that transferring the simplicity of ballot paper to complexity of relationship of 27 nations was “harder than anticipated”.

She said that she’s tried to compromise, “sought changes MPs demanded, offered to leave the job I love earlier than I would have liked”, but still hasn’t managed to deliver Brexit.

“If just 30 MPs had voted differently we would be leaving the EU,” she said, referring to the last vote, where her Brexit deal was defeated by 58 votes.

May said today:

The world is changing fast, [and we have all we need to take advantage of opportunities] … but we will not do so if our country is stuck talking about Brexit. The biggest problem with Britain today is its politics. 
With reporting by Hayley Halpin

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