MPs to vote on second referendum as part of Theresa May’s ‘new Brexit deal’
Theresa May will offer MPs a vote on whether to hold a second Brexit referendum in a last-ditch effort to get a deal through Parliament.
The Prime Minister set out a 10-point compromise package ahead of what she indicated would be her final attempt to secure approval for a deal which has already been rejected three times by MPs.
She said there was “one last chance” for MPs to deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum and take the UK out of the European Union.
Her “new Brexit deal” was agreed by Cabinet only after a stormy two-hour session in Downing Street.
As well as vote on a second referendum, MPs will also be offered a choice over the UK’s future customs arrangements after talks with Labour collapsed, in part because of the failure to agree on the issue.
They will choose between the Government’s existing proposal, which allows the UK to keep an independent trade policy but delivers some of the benefits of a customs union, or a full – but temporary – customs union with the EU which critics warn would leave the UK unable to strike trade deals with countries around the world.
In an appeal to MPs, she said that the “biggest problem with Britain today is its politics” but with the right Brexit deal “we can end this corrosive debate”.
Downing Street sources said it had not yet been decided whether MPs would be offered a free vote on whether to require a second referendum to “confirm” the deal.
But Mrs May left little doubt that she would oppose it, warning that delaying the Brexit process for months more – perhaps indefinitely – risked “opening the door to a nightmare future of permanently polarised politics”.
In a message to MPs she said: “Reject this deal and leaving the EU with a negotiated deal any time soon will be dead in the water.”
In her 10-point deal she promised:
– The Government will seek to conclude alternative arrangements to replace the Northern Ireland backstop by December 2020, so the controversial measure is never used
– A commitment that if the backstop did come into force, the Government will ensure that Great Britain will stay aligned with Northern Ireland
– Negotiating objectives and final treaties for the future UK-EU relationship will have to be approved by MPs.
– A new Workers’ Rights Bill that guarantees terms will be no less favourable than in the EU
– No change in the level of environmental protection
– A commitment to will seek “as close to frictionless” trade in goods with the EU as possible while outside the single market and ending free movement
– The UK will keep up to date with EU rules for goods and agri-food products to ease friction at borders and protect jobs that depend on just-in-time supply chains
– The customs compromise for MPs to decide on to “break the deadlocl”
– A vote for MPs on whether the deal should be subject to a referendum
– A legal duty to secure changes to the political declaration to reflect this new deal.
Mrs May has staked her political future on the deal, with the timetable for her exit from Number 10 due to be decided following the vote on the WAB.
But her hopes of success suffered early blows, with the Democratic Unionist Party, Tory Brexiteers and Labour all lining up to attack the proposals.
Critics pointed out that there was nothing in the Bill which required the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with Brussels to be reopened.
DUP Parliamentary Leader Nigel Dodds said: “We will examine the legislation closely when the bill is finally published but the fundamental flaws of the draft Withdrawal Agreement treaty itself remain unchanged.
“Many of the proposals on the backstop serve as an attempt through domestic law to mitigate a bad deal whereas the focus should be on getting a better deal.”
Former Brexit minister Steve Baker said it was a “truly awful situation” and he would oppose the “muddled implementation of a failed deal which only adds yet more uncertainty”.
European Research Group chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg tweeted: “The Prime Minister’s latest proposals are worse than before and would leave us bound deeply in to the EU. It is time to leave on WTO terms.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “We will of course look seriously at the details of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill when it is published. But we won’t back a repackaged version of the same old deal – and it’s clear that this weak and disintegrating government is unable deliver on its own commitments.”
Mrs May only received Cabinet support for the package after a marathon meeting in Downing Street in which some ministers were said to be pushed to the brink of resignation.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, a long-standing ally of the Prime Minister, was involved in “heated exchanges” over the customs proposals, a source said.
Meanwhile, two senior Cabinet ministers were involved in a public clash over the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
Chancellor Philip Hammond warned that a no-deal Brexit would cause “unpredictable, potentially significant” damage to the economy.
But Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, a Brexiteer, said “you have to be prepared to walk away” in any negotiation and she would only support the Bill “so long as it continues to be leaving the European Union” – something she defined as being outside the single market and the customs union.