Brexit: Theresa May rules out meaningful vote this week – as Ireland stands firm on backstop

The Prime Minister has sparked anger after delaying another meaningful vote on her Brexit deal until 12 March.

Arriving in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt for the first-ever conference of EU and Arab leaders, Theresa May confirmed there would not be a vote in the Commons this week, long thought to be the next chance for MPs to have a say on the withdrawal agreement.

Mrs May said talks were ongoing in Brussels with members of her team and said she believed the UK will still be able to leave the EU on 29 March.

She said: “I was in Brussels last week. Ministers were in Brussels last week. My team will be back in Brussels again this coming week. They will be returning to Brussels on Tuesday.

“As a result of that we won’t bring a meaningful vote to Parliament this week. But we will ensure that that happens by March 12.

“But it is still within our grasp to leave the European Union with a deal on March 29.”

Britain is due to leave the EU on that date because it marks two years since Article 50 was triggered, allowing the UK to enter talks to decide how the relationship with the bloc would look once it has left.

But with 33 days to go, more and more MPs, including cabinet ministers, are calling for an extension to the negotiating period to allow Britain more time to iron out the deal agreements.

Mrs May could face an amendment in the House of Commons this week which will call for an extension. The last attempt to extend was tabled by SNP’s Ian Blackford, but it was defeated.

The prime minister said: “We don’t know what amendments are going to be tabled.

“We don’t know what amendments are going to be selected.

“You haven’t even seen what motion the Government is going to put down – as I say, it won’t be the meaningful vote.

“I will be making a statement to parliament on Tuesday. And then, obviously, we’ll be having the debate the next day.”

She added: “Now, often people talk about the extension of Article 50 as if that will actually solve the issue. Of course it won’t. It defers the point of decision. There comes a point where we need to make that decision.

“Extension of Article 50 doesn’t solve the problem.

“There will always come a point where we have to decide whether we accept the deal that’s been negotiated or not.

“And that will be a decision for every member of Parliament across the House.”

She said the government is still in negotiations with the EU about the backstop, the solution to the border issue on the island of Ireland which is intended to stop a return to a hard border.

Simon Coveney, the Irish deputy prime minister, told Sophy Ridge on Sunday that there could not be any movement on the withdrawal agreement, and said the backstop had to stay as it was.

He said: “You can’t ask Ireland to compromise on something as fundamental as a peace process and relationships linked to the Good Friday Agreement in order to get a deal through which is about placating a group within the Conservative Party who are insisting on moving the prime minister away from her own position.”

His position was reiterated by Ireland’s prime minister Leo Varadkar later the same day, who said there could be no time limit on the backstop, because it then would not be a backstop.

Brexiteers fear the temporary solution would lead to the UK being permanently trapped in the EU customs union and argue it does not allow for full Brexit.

Mrs May’s decision to delay the vote sparked ire with several MPs, including the opposition.

Sir Vince Cable told Sky News: “It’s wickedly irresponsible and playing a game of chicken with the public and their representatives in parliament.

“It’s absolutely spooking business – they cannot get on, they can’t invest, they are worried about their imports.

“It’s creating an enormous amount of uncertainty.”

But he said on the “positive” side, he hoped no-deal would be taken off the table perhaps because of a delay to leaving.

Keir Starmer MP, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, commenting on the prime minister’s decision to again delay the meaningful vote, said: “This decision to further delay the meaningful vote is the height of irresponsibility and an admission of failure.

“Theresa May is recklessly running down the clock in a desperate attempt to force MPs to choose between her deal and no-deal.

“Parliament cannot stand by and allow this to happen.”

Josh Hardie, CBI deputy director-general, said: “This is the latest signal to businesses that no deal is hurtling closer. It must be averted. Every day without a deal means less investment and fewer jobs created. That’s the cost of running down the clock, and it’s irresponsible to treat that as a price worth paying.”

Mrs May’s delay comes a day after three cabinet ministers said they would be prepared to vote against her to extend Article 50 if a Brexit deal does not go through the House of Commons.

But the prime minister said this is not a breakdown of cabinet’s collective responsibility, adding: “What we have seen around the Cabinet table, in the party, and in the country at large is strong views on the issue of Europe.

“That is not a surprise to anybody.

“We have around the Cabinet table a collective, not just responsibility, but desire, to actually ensure that we leave the European Union with a deal. That’s what we’re working for and that’s what I’m working for.”

The Prime Minister is in Sharm el-Sheikh at a conference of EU and Arab leaders, before she travels back to Brussels for more talks.

However she is unlikely to get a deal in the desert, as Brexit will be a side issue while she is in Egypt. Instead she will rely on briefer one-to-one talks to make any kind of progress.

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