Theresa May will plead with MPs to “hold our nerve” after a cabinet minister admitted that the UK could be just days away from a no-deal Brexit before the Commons votes on her plan.
In a speech to parliament on today, May will say “The talks are at a crucial stage. We now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this House has required and deliver Brexit on time.”
But Commons leader Andrea Leadsom admitted the so-called “meaningful vote” on the prime minister’s deal could be delayed until after an EU summit on March 21st. That’s only a week before exit day on 29th March.
British MPs overwhelmingly rejected May’s withdrawal deal last month, with the major sticking point being the Irish ‘backstop’ – a form of insurance policy to prevent the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and their southern neighbour Ireland.
Critics say the policy could leave Britain subject to EU rules for years or even indefinitely after leaving the bloc.
The EU says the backstop is vital to avoiding the return of border controls in Ireland and has refused to reopen the Brexit divorce deal, though May still insists she can get legally binding changes to replace the most controversial parts of the backstop.
“By getting the changes we need to the backstop; by protecting and enhancing workers’ rights and environmental protections; and by enhancing the role of Parliament in the next phase of negotiations I believe we can reach a deal that this House can support” she will say.
Andrea Leadsom said MPs would back May’s deal if there were assurances the backstop was time-limited or the UK was allowed to leave it unilaterally, suggesting the actual deal itself did not need to be renegotiated.
“The point is to ensure the UK cannot be held in a backstop permanently, how it’s achieved is not something to be purist about,” Leadsom told BBC radio.
But EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier said last night that the talks had been “constructive”, but added it was “clear from our side we’re not going to reopen the withdrawal agreement, but we will continue our discussions in the coming days”.
Labour MP Owen Smith, who supports a second referendum, accused Theresa May of trying to “blackmail and bully” MPs into voting for her deal or “risk the cataclysm of a no deal Brexit” yesterday.
He said he thought the PM “is anticipating MPs will blink at the last minute as they can’t countenance having no deal [forced on] their constituents”.
May is due to make her statement to MPs at 12:30.