PM defeated after ‘Meaningful Vote on meaningless changes’

The defeat of Theresa May’s Brexit deal should come as no surprise, an Ulster Unionist MEP has said.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up Mrs May’s Conservative Party in the House of Commons, had indicated its 10 MPs would vote against her proposed Withdrawal Deal.

Speaking after the vote, veteran European Parliamentarian Jim Nicholson (UUP) claimed the defeat should come as no surprise as there were “no meaningful changes” to the deal.

He also called for Brexit to be delayed.

“In reality, the joint instrument and the joint statement are nothing but legal gymnastics to try to paper over the cracks,” he said.

“It made the division in the House of Commons a Meaningful Vote on meaningless changes.

“We want a deal but we want a good deal – a deal that will not compromise the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.

“It is in the best interests of the EU and UK to use their best efforts to work towards a workable deal, in order to avoid a no deal Brexit.

“Calm heads are needed now and a short technical extension should be seriously considered.”

Bloody Sunday prosecutions
Colum Eastwood says the backstop will have to be accepted ‘at some point’ (Liam McBurney/PA)

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood expressed disappointment at the vote but said Westminster will “have to accept the backstop at some point”.

“Sooner or later, the British Parliament is going to have to support a backstop for Northern Ireland or else support no Brexit at all – there is no happy medium between these two eventualities,” he said.

“The bottom line is that the backstop, aside from scrapping Brexit entirely, is our only insurance policy against a hard border.

“Until MPs accept this reality, Article 50 should be extended to avoid us crashing out of the EU without a deal.”

Business groups in Northern Ireland have expressed frustration at the lack of agreement over a Brexit deal.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said: “We have no indication of customs, tariffs, documentation or checks that will be in effect on day one and we are no clearer as to the status of the border.

“There are no winners in a no-deal Brexit that systematically disintegrates the supply chains of these islands.

“Politicians of all shades must put people before politics and economics before ideology to find an agreement that can pass a vote. We need a deal.”

Roger Pollen from the Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland said the defeat has “further heightened uncertainty”.

“For small businesses, they just want to know what economic environment they will face after March 29,” he said.

“A cliff-edge Brexit is in no-one’s interest so despite tonight’s setback an agreement must be reached to avoid it.”

Brexit
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts has warned no deal would be ‘disastrous’ for the sector (Press Eye/PA)

Glyn Roberts, of Retail NI, said: “An extension to Article 50 needs to happen to allow time for meaningful talks between the Government and the opposition parties.

“The House of Commons needs to state very clearly that a no-deal is off the agenda.

“Crashing out of the EU without a deal would be disastrous for our retail sector, causing delays in the supply chain, food shortages and potential higher prices for consumers.

“Every element of the Northern Ireland business community, trade unions and voluntary sector is speaking with one very clear voice on Brexit – we need a deal.”