May battles to get MPs to back Withdrawal Agreement on original Brexit Day

Theresa May is battling to get her Brexit Withdrawal Agreement backed by the Commons on the day that was scheduled to see Britain quit the EU.

The Prime Minister split the legally binding treaty segment of her Brexit deal from the declaration on future relations with the EU in order to ensure MPs could vote on it on Friday.

But Mrs May faced an uphill struggle as key Government allies the DUP joined Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in saying they would vote against the move.

The PM’s decision to present just the Withdrawal Agreement to the Commons means it is not a third attempt to pass a “meaningful vote” on the Government’s Brexit deal and complies with rules laid down by Commons Speaker John Bercow.

Prime Minister Theresa May (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Jeremy Corbyn told the PM he would not support the move (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Under the terms of an agreement with Brussels, if passed by MPs on Friday the vote would qualify the UK to be granted an automatic delay to May 22 of the formal date of Brexit.

Mrs May’s move allows the Government to present the situation as a choice between a short delay to Brexit and the potential for a much longer one which would mean taking part in European Parliament elections.

But it would not let Parliament go ahead and ratify the withdrawal deal, as Brexit legislation allows this only after the passage of a “meaningful vote” on both the Withdrawal Agreement and a Political Declaration on the future relationship.

DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said his party could not back the Withdrawal Agreement because the Government had failed to win legally binding changes regarding the controversial “backstop” customs arrangements for the Irish border.

Mr Corbyn told the PM in a 20-minute telephone discussion on Thursday that he would not support the move as it represented a “blindfold Brexit”.

However, Downing Street is hoping that the move to split off the agreement will win support from Labour backbenchers.

Labour’s Caroline Flint said she would back the Government, telling the BBC: “I actually think this is a positive move and I will be supporting the motion for the Withdrawal Agreement.

“Lots of people have problems with the Political Declaration, but they don’t, actually, have much disagreement with the Withdrawal Agreement.”

Mr Dodds said: “We will be voting against the Withdrawal Agreement because the concerns that we have about the trade border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and what that would mean in terms of who makes our laws – not Stormont or Westminster – those concerns remain.”

Despite Mrs May winning the backing of some members of the hardline European Research Group (ERG) of Tory MPs after she said she would stand down as PM if she gets her deal through Parliament, a number of Conservative Eurosceptics have refused to budge.

Sir Bill Cash told the BBC: “The Prime Minister’s deal is not Brexit.”

Downing Street has said that Mrs May will not move to a third meaningful vote – known in Westminster as MV3 – unless she believes she has a realistic chance of success, after it was heavily defeated by 230 votes in January and 149 in March.

If the motion on the Withdrawal Agreement is rejected by MPs, the UK will have until April 12 to ask for a further extension to Brexit negotiations – which would require voters to choose new MEPs – or leave the EU without a deal.

The vote comes on the day that pro-Brexit protesters are set to gather outside Parliament to mark what had been scheduled to be the UK’s exit date from the EU.

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