PM’s deputy faces pressure to reveal any Brexit deal vote delay

Theresa May’s deputy was pressed to reveal if the next “meaningful” Brexit vote will be delayed as the Prime Minister bids to secure legally binding changes.

Cabinet Office minister David Lidington said such a vote would take place “as soon as possible” and reiterated a motion for debate would be tabled to discuss Brexit further if a revised deal does not return before MPs by February 13.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry had cited briefings which suggested a fresh vote on the Withdrawal Agreement would not take place next week, before warning the Government is in danger of “sleepwalking the country towards leaving with no plan and no deal at all” on March 29.

With Mrs May meeting political leaders in Northern Ireland, Mr Lidington deputised for her at Prime Minister’s Questions while Ms Thornberry stood in for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Labour frontbencher Ms Thornberry began by mocking the PM as she noted Mr Lidington was always referred to as “effectively the deputy Prime Minister” in the media, adding: “Surely the only time these days where the words Prime Minister and effective are used in the same sentence.”

Ms Thornberry asked: “If the briefing is correct that there will not be a fresh meaningful vote on the Withdrawal Agreement next week, when will the vote take place?

Mr Lidington replied: “The Prime Minister was completely clear on this at this despatch box last week.

“She said that the meaningful vote itself would be brought back as soon as possible, and if it were not possible to bring the meaningful vote by February 13, the Government would then make a statement and then table a motion for debate the next day”.

Prime Minister’s Questions
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons (PA)

But the Labour frontbencher said: “I take from that and other briefings we’ve heard that the time for a fresh vote will be after the Prime Minister has secured what she called last week a significant and legally binding change to the Withdrawal Agreement so that this House has something genuinely different to vote on.

“Can the minister simply clarify what will happen if we start to approach March 29 and those significant, legally binding changes have not been achieved?”

Mr Lidington said the PM is heading to Brussels on Thursday for talks with EU leaders “to discuss the changes that she is seeking following the recent votes in this House”.

He hit back at Ms Thornberry, adding: “I do think that she does need to not just question the Government but actually face up to the fact that, if as she and I both wish, we are to leave the EU in an orderly manner, with a deal, it requires this House to vote in favour of a deal and not just declare that it doesn’t want a no-deal scenario.”

Technological solution isn’t workable the only option that will actually work is a full customs union says @EmilyThornberry this is the answer staring the government in the face and if they backed it it would secure a majority in this House

— PARLY (@ParlyApp) February 6, 2019

Ms Thornberry was later jeered by some Tory MPs as she proposed a “temporary” extension to Article 50 so MPs have “time to see whether the negotiations succeed or, if they do not, to pursue a different plan”.

Mr Lidington dismissed this suggestion, describing it as a way of simply delaying the need for the Commons to “face up to some difficult decisions”.

In her final remarks at PMQs, Ms Thornberry said of the Government’s approach: “The truth is there are no answers.

“Plan A has been resoundingly rejected by Parliament, Plan B was ruled out by the EU months ago, and the Government is in danger of sleepwalking the country towards leaving with no plan and no deal at all.

“So, with just over 50 days to go, can I give the minister a final opportunity to tell us whether there is a better plan than this or for goodness sake will he let Parliament take charge instead.”

Mr Lidington said the PM will report back to Parliament next week following her discussions in Brussels and elsewhere before criticising Labour’s approach.

He said: “If they are worried about no deal, they have to vote for a deal – and every time they vote against a deal, the risk of no-deal becomes greater.

“It really is time for the Opposition frontbench, for once, to put the national interest first, do the right thing and vote for a deal.”