Theresa May confirms she will vote to block no-deal Brexit
Theresa May has confirmed that she will vote to block a no-deal Brexit, as she faced renewed pressure from Jeremy Corbyn to abandon her “dead” departure plan and instead embrace Labour’s customs union alternative.
On yet another fast-moving day, the chancellor, Philip Hammond, used his spring statement to the Commons effectively to call for a new, cross-party plan to deliver Brexit.
After issuing repeated warnings about the economic risks of no-deal, Hammond said that if this was ruled out, there would be “the opportunity to start to map out a way forward towards building a consensus across this house for a deal we can, collectively support, to exit the EU in an orderly way”.
Immediately beforehand, at prime minister’s questions, where May again struggled with her voice and kept her answers brief, the Labour leader began by urging her to back Wednesday evening’s motion seeking to rule out no deal after her plan was rejected for a second time.
“The prime minister has been stubbornly declaring that the only choice is between her deal and no deal,” Corbyn said. “Last night’s vote finished off her deal. Tonight she’s not even showing the leadership to whip on no deal.”
Corbyn asked which way May would vote on the government motion, for which Conservative MPs will have a free vote. She replied: “I will be voting for the motion standing in my name.”
In a later exchange, with the Conservative pro-Brexit MP Peter Bone, May expressed her scepticism about the so-called Malthouse compromise, outlined in an amendment to Wednesday’s motion, which calls for the UK to leave the EU without a withdrawal agreement, but with a form of transition period to lessen the impact of no deal.
May told Bone that this was not realistic: “The EU have made it clear there will be no transition period without a withdrawal agreement, and that includes what we have already negotiated on citizens’ rights, a financial settlement and a Northern Ireland protocol.”
Her exchanges with Corbyn involved the Labour leader repeatedly urging her to outline a new plan for Brexit, and to consider backing Labour’s proposal, under which the UK would stay in some form of customs union.
“The prime minister doesn’t seem to understand. Her deal has been flatly rejected twice by this house by unprecedented majorities,” Corbyn said. May had refused to listen to business groups and others throughout the process, he added.
“With her own deal now so decisively rejected, can we be informed by the prime minister what she is now for?” Labour’s plan was “the credible show in town, available and ready to be negotiated”, he said.
“Isn’t it time she moved on from her red lines and faced the reality of the situation that she has got herself, her government and this country into?”
May responded: “The deal that he’s proposing has been rejected several times by this house.”. To some cheers from her backbenchers, she added: “I may not have my own voice, but I do understand the voice of the country.”
In his final question, Corbyn urged May to listen to the worries of unions and others over the Brexit chaos. “The prime minister’s deal has failed. She no longer has the ability to lead,” he said. “This is a rudderless government in the face of a huge national crisis.
“She needs now to show leadership. So can the prime minister tell us, exactly, what her plan is now?”
In response, May said only that there would be “hard choices” for MPs, both on the vote over no deal, and if that is ruled out, a vote on Thursday over whether to extend article 50. “We will continue to work to deliver leaving the European Union with a good deal,” she said.
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