UK government hopes to hold fresh Brexit vote on Friday
The government aims to hold a new vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal on Friday, ministers have announced, even as it emerged that no new talks were scheduled with the DUP.
However, it appears that this will not be the much-touted third meaningful vote on the prime minister’s plan. A Downing Street source said: “This is not meaningful vote three.”
The leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, said MPs would sit on Friday and hold a debate on Brexit. She did not specify what sort of vote would result, and repeatedly rebuffed MPs’ questions on the subject.
Leadsom said only that the vote would get around the ruling of the Speaker, John Bercow, that the same motion could not be voted on yet again.
“The motion tabled will comply with the Speaker’s ruling but the only way we ensure we leave in good time on 22 May is by approving the withdrawal agreement by 11pm on 29 March, which is tomorrow,” she said, adding: “It’s crucial we make every effort to give effect to that and to allow the house to debate this important issue.”
Leadsom was also asked whether ministers wanted to decouple the withdrawal agreement for a separate vote, distinct from the government’s outline plan for a future relationship with the EU, but declined to specify, saying MPs would have to await the motion.
The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who fears the motion could be “more trickery”, said it would not be illegal for the government to seek to pass just the withdrawal agreement, without MPs having a say on the plan for the future relationship.
A spokeswoman for the Commons leader’s office said: “Discussions are ongoing and we will look to table the motion as soon as possible [on Thursday], in order to avoid asking for another extension and the requirement to undertake European parliament elections.”
The news came as the Guardian learned that May would not be holding discussions with the Democratic Unionist party on Thursday, making it highly unlikely that she would have the number of votes required to pass her withdrawal deal.
Sources said there were no plans for talks on Thursday, despite Downing Street claims that ministers would continue to speak with Arlene Foster or the DUP’s leaders in Westminster, Nigel Dodds and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.
May is struggling to reach the number of 320 votes from MPs. At the moment, she only has about 270 publicly declared Tory, Labour and independent supporters for her withdrawal agreement.
Several members of the European Research Group have said they will vote for May’s deal if the DUP is prepared to back it.
May had hoped to make a third attempt to pass her Brexit deal on Friday. Conservative sources had claimed that she and other ministers would continue talks with the pro-union party in the hope they would have the numbers to pass a deal.
A Downing Street spokesman said on Wednesday the talks were continuing. However, a source close to the DUP said: “No talks planned today.”
The decision not to hold talks on Thursday will also fuel speculation that further talks could be shelved altogether.
The DUP, whose votes give the Tories a majority in parliament, said on Wednesday that May’s Brexit deal posed “an unacceptable threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom” because it could impose new barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The DUP’s main objection is to the backstop, the “insurance policy” designed to avoid the return of border checkpoints in the event a future trade deal is not agreed.
It argues that the measure would result in Northern Ireland having to abide by different trade rules to the rest of the UK, which Foster says would “damage the union”.
Hopes that this might mean that the DUP could abstain on a future vote were dashed on Thursday night after Dodds said: “The DUP do not abstain on the union.”
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the DUP said the backstop had “the potential to create an internal trade border within the United Kingdom and would cut us off from our main internal market, being Great Britain”.
He added: “The backstop, which we warned this government against from its first inception, poses an unacceptable threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom and will inevitably limit the United Kingdom’s ability to negotiate on the type of future relationship with the EU.”
Rajeev Syal and Peter Walker