We’re going to close down this live blog now, so here’s a summary of the day’s events:
- Theresa May suffered another humiliating defeat as MPs overwhelmingly rejected her Brexit deal for a second time. The prime minister had hoped assurances she gained from EU leaders on Monday would win round MPs who were concerned about the UK becoming stuck in the backstop. But she lost by 149 votes in the Commons after the attorney general said such a risk remained.
- The vote made a no-deal Brexit more likely, according to the president of the European Council. Donald Tusk said: “On the EU side we have done all that is possible to reach an agreement ... With only 17 days left to 29 March, today’s vote has significantly increased the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit.”
- MPs will vote on the possibility of a no-deal Brexit on Wednesday and, if they reject that, on the possibility of delaying the UK’s exit from the European Union, May said. She promised Tory MPs they would be given a free vote but some parliamentarians believe the government’s motion is too weak in its opposition to a no-deal Brexit and have tabled an amendment. Some Tory MPs proposed a separate amendment calling for a transition period, but not a backstop. That was quickly dismissed as a “dangerous illusion” by the EU’s chief negotiator.
- Labour said it would again try to force the government to adopt its Brexit stance. After May was defeated, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for a general election.
- Business groups reacted to the day’s parliamentary business with anger. They called for an extension to Article 50 in order to avoid a disorderly Brexit. Tusk said such a request must be accompanied by a “credible justification”.
If you’d like to read more, my colleague Heather Stewart has the full story:
The UK is moving closer to crashing out of the European Union without a deal, the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, has said, adding that both sides should now focus on defining their future relationship after Brexit.
We hope naturally that in the coming 17 days we would still be able to avoid a disorderly exit. But we must now wait and see how the political situation in Britain develops and must not speculate. The British lower house has it all in its own hands.
The DUP’s Ian Paisley has said he would like to see a no-deal option left on the table when MPs vote on it tomorrow. He told BBC Two’s Newsnight:
Anyone who has embarked on any sort of negotiation to get any sort of result will always have that last option available to them. To remove it weakens your negotiating team, weakens the options that you have. I say this to all Members of Parliament: If you vote to remove this from the prime minister’s arsenal, essentially she will have to blink again.
The education minister, Nadhim Zahawi, agreed, saying:
As a responsible Member of Parliament representing Stratford-upon-Avon, I think the right thing to do for my constituents and the country is to keep no deal on the table because the only way to secure a good deal is if you can walk away from it.
Tory tensions are coming to the fore this evening. The Foreign Office minister, Alistair Burt, has chosen to make public his frustration at his party colleague, Jacob Rees-Mogg, claiming that – despite the backbencher’s well-known pro-Brexit position – he voted against leaving the EU this evening.
Here’s a look at the front pages of some of tomorrow’s newspapers. No prizes for guessing what story they carry.
The majority of them – including the Guardian, the Financial Times and the Times – focus on the scale of May’s defeat and her loss of control and authority in the Commons.
The Daily Telegraph has a not-too-dissimilar take, though it focuses more on May’s apparent determination to stay on as prime minister, despite the repeated rejection of her central policy.
The Daily Mail and the Daily Express each go one further and bemoan what they see as the frustration of Brexit. The Mail is in no doubt whom it blames, though – at least on the strength of the copy on its front page – the Express is a little more measured.
The Daily Mirror and the Scotsman look forward – to the likelihood that Brexit will be delayed and Wednesday’s planned vote on a no-deal scenario.
An interesting line – unconfirmed, it should be noted – from ITV News’ Robert Peston:
This could be interpreted by some as political positioning for a possible leadership campaign. Of course, that would require either Theresa May’s resignation or her removal by Parliament, since her own backbenchers could not force her out until December this year at the earliest.
Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, reacted to Tuesday’s decision in an article for El País. He said he profoundly regretted the rejection, which would serve only to “prolong the uncertainty just over two weeks” before Brexit was due to happen. He wrote:
[British] MPs neither ratified the withdrawal agreement, nor managed to reach a basic consensus on the real, existing possibilities: a no-deal exit or staying in the European Union.
But he said Spain was well prepared for any eventuality and wished to reassure both Spaniard and Britons.
On a day like today, the important thing is that Spain has done its job. Spaniards are ready for any scenario, with or without a deal.
The Spanish government’s number one priority has always been the same: To offer rigour, certainty and security to this process – especially for citizens and economic actors – and to strengthen the foundations of our future relationship with a country to which we are bound by profound links of many different kinds.
Sinn Féin say tonight’s rejection of Theresa May’s Brexit deal brings into focus the Tories’ “disregard” for the Good Friday Agreement. The republican party’s president, Mary Lou McDonald, has said:
The British Parliament voted by a landslide to reject the withdrawal agreement and Theresa May’s latest proposals.
The scenes tonight show the absolute disregard for the people of Ireland, for our rights, our economy and the Good Friday Agreement that is at the heart of the Tory Brexit agenda.
Sinn Féin and the majority of parties across this island, know there is no good or sensible Brexit. The withdrawal agreement is imperfect but it is the only deal on offer. The ‘backstop’ contained is a guarantee that no hard border will be imposed on this island and protects the Good Friday Agreement.
We are 17 days away from Brexit and the uncertainty and confusion continues.
A crash-out Brexit would be a unthinkable for the peace process, jobs, trade and to the loss of people’s rights and quality of life, particularly in border communities.
Despite giving assurances to Theresa May, the EU has made clear that the withdrawal agreement is not going to be reopened for negotiation. There is now a need to intensify planning for a no-deal crash with an imperative to ensure no return to a hard border, protections of our agreements and safeguarding the rights of citizens.
Here are some terrific pictures from the House of Commons photographers.
That’s all from me for tonight.
My colleague Kevin Rawlinson is now taking over.
Chance of no-deal Brexit has 'significantly increased', says EU
And this is from a spokesman for Donald Tusk, the president of the European council.
We regret the outcome of tonight’s vote and are disappointed that the UK government has been unable to ensure a majority for the withdrawal agreement agreed by both parties in November.
On the EU side we have done all that is possible to reach an agreement. Given the additional assurances provided by the EU in December, January and yesterday, it is difficult to see what more we can do.
If there is a solution to the current impasse, it can only be found in London.
The EU, for its part, continues to stand by the withdrawal agreement, including the backstop, which serves to prevent a hard border in Ireland and preserve the integrity of the single market unless and until alternative arrangements can be found.
With only 17 days left to 29 March, today’s vote has significantly increased the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit. We will continue our no-deal preparations and ensure that we will be ready if such a scenario arises.
Should there be a UK reasoned request for an extension, the EU27 will consider it and decide by unanimity.
The EU27 will expect a credible justification for a possible extension and its duration. The smooth functioning of the EU institutions will need to be ensured.
This is from the Danish PM, Lars Løkke Rasmussen.
This is from the DUP’s Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson.
Leading MEP Manfred Weber says EU will not extend article 50 unless UK has majority of plan
This is from Manfred Weber, leader of the centre-right European People’s party in the European parliament and the EPP’s candidate for next president of the European commission.
This is from Sky’s Tamara Cohen.
The Conservative MP Dame Caroline Spelman and Labour’s Jack Dromey have tabled an amendment ruling out a no-deal Brexit for good.
This is word for word the same as the Spelman/Dromey amendment ruling out a no-deal Brexit that was passed at the end of January.
Tory MPs propose 'Malthouse compromise plan B' amendment, calling for transition with no backstop
Steve Baker, the Tory Brexiter and deputy chair of the ERG, has said that some of his colleagues will be tabling an amendment proposing the Malthouse compromise plan B - essentially a transition, without the Irish backstop.
This is the idea that Boris Johnson, the Brexiter former foreign secretary, was championing in the debate earlier. (See 6.37pm.)
But Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said after watching some of the debate (and Johnson’s speech?) that the Malthouse compromise plan B is not on offer and that it was a “dangerous illusion” to think otherwise. (See 6.30pm.)
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said that the fact that “a handful of DUP MPs held more sway over Scotland’s future than our own national parliament” demonstrates more clearly than ever that the case for Scottish independence
Sturgeon said that May and her government “should be hanging their heads in shame” after the outcome of the vote which she described as “entirely predictable”.
Calling for May to rule out no-deal and call a second EU referendum, she added:
Ruling out no deal and extending article 50 would stop the clock on Brexit and enable another referendum on EU membership to be held. We will support any such referendum, provided it has the option to remain in the EU on the ballot paper.
Scotland’s needs and voice have been ignored by the UK government throughout the Brexit process, and today a handful of DUP MPs held more sway over Scotland’s future than our own national parliament – that demonstrates more clearly than ever that the case for Scotland becoming an independent country has never been stronger. We will continue to stand up for Scotland and to reflect our nation’s overwhelming vote to remain in the EU.
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, said that giving MPs a free vote on no deal was “a disgraceful dereliction of duty”, adding:
The prime minister must finally act in the interests of all four nations of the UK - and not just her own party - by whipping her MPs to vote against a no-deal Brexit and extend article 50.
This is from Sky’s Beth Rigby.
'Time to stop this circus' - Business groups launch fierce attack on MPs for failing to agree Brexit deal
Business organisations are furious at parliament’s failure to agree a Brexit deal. Here are some of the things they have been saying.
From Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI
From Edwin Morgan, interim director general of the Institute of Directors
Our politicians have yet again failed to find a way to break the impasse. They are becoming adept at saying what they don’t want, but it’s still hard to see where the desire for compromise lies.
If an extension is sought, both the government and the opposition must state in precise terms what they are hoping to achieve from it. Recurring short extensions aren’t an appetising prospect for businesses.
From Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce
It is profoundly obvious that neither government nor many businesses are ready for a disorderly exit – and this must not be allowed to happen on 29 March, whether by default or by design.
Businesses have been failed over and over again by Westminster in recent months, but allowing a messy and disorderly exit on 29 March would take political negligence to new extremes.
From Mike Cherry, chair of the Federation of Small Businesses
While parliament dithers, debates and delays, the reality is that there are just 17 days to go and small firms are still blindly in the dark about how they will be operating post 29 March.
Small businesses are increasingly frustrated. While these political games have been playing out, small firms have been made to suffer - unable to invest, plan, hire and grow.
From Mike Hawes, head of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders
Today’s vote leaves us perilously close to the ‘cliff edge’. No-deal would be catastrophic for the automotive industry. It would end frictionless trade, add billions to the cost of manufacturing and cost jobs. UK automotive businesses will be put at immediate risk. Parliament must reject no-deal and take it permanently off the table.
From the National Farmers’ Union
The outcome of the vote means there is no realistic possibility of achieving an orderly departure from the EU on March 29. A no-deal exit from the EU would be a catastrophe for British farming and food production.
From Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium
It is the most vulnerable who will feel the impact of a no deal Brexit most …. 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.
Dutch PM says UK will need 'credible and convincing justification' for article 50 extension
These are from Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, responding to the defeat.
Theresa May's statement responding to defeat – summary
Here are the main points from Theresa May’s statement responding to the defeat.
- May said Tory MPs will be given a free vote on rejecting a no-deal Brexit.
- She confirmed that MPs would get a vote on ruling out no deal tomorrow, followed by a vote on extending article 50 if no deal is rejected.
- She signalled that she would not support no deal herself. She said:
I have personally struggled with this choice as I am sure many other honourable members will. I am passionate about delivering the result of the referendum. But I equally passionately believe that the best way to do that is to leave in an orderly way with a deal and I still believe there is a majority in the house for that course of action. And I am conscious also of my duties as prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of the potential damage to the union that leaving without a deal could do when one part of our country is without devolved governance.
- She revealed that the vote tomorrow will just be on rejecting a no-deal Brexit on 29 March. The motion will not rule out the principle of no deal for good. It will say:
That this house declines to approve leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement and a framework on the future relationship on 29 March 2019; and notes that leaving without a deal remains the default in UK and EU law unless this house and the EU ratify an agreement.
- She said the government would publish new information tomorrow about the impact of a no-deal Brexit.
To ensure the house is fully informed in making this historic decision, the government will tomorrow publish information on essential policies which would need to be put in place if we were to leave without a deal. These will cover our approach to tariffs and the Northern Ireland border, among other matters.
- She said she “profoundly” regretted the defeat.
Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, is still taking questions. MPs have been repeatedly trying to get her to say what length article 50 extension the government will propose, if the debate goes ahead on Thursday, but she has refused to say.
This is from BuzzFeed’s Europe editor, Alberto Nardelli.
List of 75 Tories who voted against May's deal
And here is the Press Association list of the 75 Tories who voted against the deal.
Adam Afriyie (Windsor), Lucy Allan (Telford), Richard Bacon (South Norfolk), Steve Baker (Wycombe), John Baron (Basildon and Billericay), Guto Bebb (Aberconwy), Crispin Blunt (Reigate), Peter Bone (Wellingborough), Suella Braverman (Fareham), Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire), Conor Burns (Bournemouth West), William Cash (Stone), Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham), Christopher Chope (Christchurch), Simon Clarke (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland), Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe), Robert Courts (Witney), Richard Drax (South Dorset), James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East), Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green), Charlie Elphicke (Dover), Michael Fabricant (Lichfield), Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks), Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford), Marcus Fysh (Yeovil), James Gray (North Wiltshire), Chris Green (Bolton West), Justine Greening (Putney), Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield), Sam Gyimah (East Surrey), Mark Harper (Forest of Dean), Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey), Philip Hollobone (Kettering), Adam Holloway (Gravesham), Eddie Hughes (Walsall North), Ranil Jayawardena (North East Hampshire), Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex), Andrea Jenkyns (Morley and Outwood), Boris Johnson (Uxbridge and South Ruislip), Gareth Johnson (Dartford), Joseph Johnson (Orpington), David Jones (Clwyd West), Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham), Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire), Phillip Lee (Bracknell), Andrew Lewer (Northampton South), Julian Lewis (New Forest East), Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset), Julia Lopez (Hornchurch and Upminster), Jonathan Lord (Woking), Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet), Anne Main (St Albans), Esther McVey (Tatton), Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot), Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall), Priti Patel (Witham), Owen Paterson (North Shropshire), Tom Pursglove (Corby), Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton), John Redwood (Wokingham), Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset), Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury), Andrew Rosindell (Romford), Lee Rowley (North East Derbyshire), Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield), Henry Smith (Crawley), Royston Smith (Southampton, Itchen), Bob Stewart (Beckenham), Ross Thomson (Aberdeen South), Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole), Craig Tracey (North Warwickshire), Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed), Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire), Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet), John Whittingdale (Maldon).
Here is the Guardian list of how MPs voted.
How MPs voted on the deal by party
The Commons website with the division lists seems to have crashed.
But here are the figures for how MPs voted for the deal by party.
Lib Dems: 11
Plaid Cymru: 4
Labour’s Chris Bryant asks if the no-deal vote tomorrow will be at 7pm, as you would expect, and if the vote on Thursday will be at 5pm, as you would expect.
Leadsom says it will be for MPs to decide.
Bercow says the business motion says tomorrow’s vote should be at 7pm.
The Lib Dem Brexit spokesman Tom Brake asks if there will be protected time for the debate tomorrow.
Tomorrow Philip Hammond, the chancellor, is making his spring statement. That will start at 12.30pm, and could easily run for up to three hours. So, if the main debate ends at 7pm, MPs could be left with just three hours or so to debate a no-deal Brexit.
Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, says MPs can amend the business motion.
Here are the previous biggest government defeats.
Today’s will be the fourth biggest in the democratic era.
Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, makes a short business statement confirming the no-deal debate will take place tomorrow.
Labour’s Hilary Benn, chair of the Brexit committee, asks what arrangements will apply on Thursday to allow for manuscript amendments then.
Bercow says the hours will be different, because the sitting hours are different, but the principle will be the same; he will try to facilitate what MPs want.
Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP, says people urgently need clarification as to what will happen in a few weeks’ time.
She says the PM’s proposal of a motion tomorrow sounded unclear. Will it be tabled in time for MPs to table amendments, so the vote can be clear cut?
And will the government confirm that the vote on extending article 50 will go ahead on Thursday?
John Bercow, the Speaker, says he thought May was clear those votes were going ahead.
He says he will allow MPs to submit manuscript amendments to tomorrow’s motion by 10.30am tomorrow. A list will be produced.
Sir Vince Cable, the Lib Dem leader, asks if there is any precedent since, say, the American war of independence of a PM being defeated twice, but continuing with the same policy.
Bercow says it is usually unwise to say something is unprecedented.
Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, says Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, told May today that the SNP would engage with the government on a sensible way forward.
But that must include a second referendum, he says.
- SNP says May must now accept case for second referendum.
Corbyn says Labour will again try to get MPs to back its Brexit plan
Jeremy Corbyn says the house must unite around a proposal that can be negotiated. That plan has been put forward by Labour, he says.
He says Labour will put its plan forward again.
May has run down the clock. Maybe we should have a general election, he says.
- Corbyn says Labour will again try to get MPs to back its Brexit plan.
May says she has struggled with this. She is conscious of the need to honour the referendum. But she also knows how important it is to get a deal.
She says the government motion will say that a no-deal Brexit remains the government’s default, unless there is a deal.
She says, if MPs vote to leave without a deal, that will become government policy.
If MPs reject the plan, there will be a vote on Thursday on extending article 50.
But voting for an extension does not solve the problems the government faces. The EU will want to know if the UK wants to revoke article 50 or if it wants a referendum. Those are choices the house must now face.
May says Tory MPs will get free vote tomorrow on no-deal Brexit
Theresa May is making a statement now.
She says two weeks ago she made a series of commitments about what would happen if she lost the vote. She stands by those commitments in full.
Tomorrow there will be a debate and vote on leaving the UK with no deal.
This is a matter of profound importance.
It will be a free vote for Tory MPs, she says.
- May says Tory MPs will get a free vote tomorrow on a no-deal Brexit.
MPs reject May's Brexit deal for second time by majority of 149
Theresa May’s deal has been defeated again by 391 votes to 242 - a majority of 149.
The result should have been announced by now. Normally divisions take 15 minutes. It is not clear why it is taking so long.
From Sky’s Beth Rigby
From Labour’s Mary Creagh
In January 202 MPs voted for the deal.
From the Mail on Sunday’s Harry Cole
From Labour’s Ben Bradshaw
From Newsnight’s Nicholas Watt
From Sky’s Faisal Islam
This is from the Labour MP Paul Sweeney.
From the Telegraph’s Christopher Hope
From Labour’s Maria Eagle
The SNP’s Hannah Bardell has tweeted a picture.
This is from Labour’s Jon Trickett.
Rees-Mogg was trying to get Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, to confirm that article 62 of the Vienna convention allows a country to abandon a treaty in extreme circumstances.
Cox did say that. But, as you can see from his full quote, Cox also said it would be “unwise” to try to exercise this right. He said:
As I have pointed out to the House, there is a right for the United Kingdom to terminate this agreement. If fundamental circumstances change, in the view of the United Kingdom, it would attempt to resolve the matter within the joint committee and it would attempt to resolve it politically, but if, ultimately, with the sovereign right of this House and of the British government at the time, the United Kingdom took the view that those fundamental circumstances had indeed changed, it would have an undoubted legal right to withdrawal from any treaty.
Let us be clear about these kinds of absolute interpretations of black-letter text. A sovereign state has the right to withdraw if a treaty is no longer compatible with its fundamental interests or, to put it a different way, if fundamental circumstances have changed. I would say that apart from that, of course this country could resile from its commitments, but it would be unwise and it would not be in the tradition of this country to do so. In those circumstances, it is perfectly true that the only remedies the [European] Union would have would be to take countermeasures, and no doubt it would pollute the atmosphere for fruitful relationships between us, which is precisely why this country will never do it, and neither would the European Union.
Later Cox put it in even stronger terms, saying this approach would just be “wrong”. He said:
We are permitted, in a case of fundamental change of circumstances, to withdraw by the law. If such a change of circumstance came about –either because of some fundamental political change in Northern Ireland or some fundamental change of circumstance going to the essential basis of the agreement – then we would have the right to withdraw. But in all normal, envisageable and predictable circumstances, particularly while we are negotiating a subsequent agreement to the pace and accelerated timetable that this instrument now requires, we would not do so and it would be wrong to do so – wrong because it would be a breach of our obligations and wrong because this is a law-abiding country.
MPs are now voting.
Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, says invoking article 62 of the Vienna convention would involve a rather apocalyptic scenario.
Barclay says lawyers can always disagree.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory MP and ERG chair, intervenes. He says he thinks Geoffrey Cox has extended his advice on how the Vienna convention could be used to ensure the UK does not get stuck in the backstop.
Barclay says exceptional circumstances could change the way the UK entered into an agreement. If the UK took the reasonable view that the protocol (ie the backstop) was no longer needed, then it could argue it was no longer necessary.
Article 62 of the Vienna convention allows the termination of a treaty in certain circumstances.
He says in the unlikely event that this were to happen, the UK would continue to respect things like citizens’ rights.
- Barclay says the attorney general has given ministers new advice saying in certain circumstances the UK could unilaterally leave the backstop.
The Telegraph’s Christopher Hope thinks the government will lose by a majority of around 150 votes.
Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, is winding up now.
He says this deal will allow the country to move forward. It will deliver the protections MPs asked for. And, on Gibraltar, the PM has been clear that the government stands behind sovereignty for Gibraltar, and that will never change.
Starmer says he never thought the government would get into such a bad position.
Labour MPs should take no joy in the mess the government has got into, he says.
After this vote, MPs will have to come together to find a solution, he says.
Starmer says ministers repeatedly said MPs would get a detailed plan for the future trade deal when they voted on the withdrawal agreement.
But the government has not delivered that, he says.
Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, is winding up now for Labour.
He says the government has been trying to get by from day to day.
He says Theresa May promised votes on a no-deal Brexit, and on extending article 50, to avoid defeat.
But events have caught up with May, he says.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory Brexiter and ERG chair, has said most ERG members who attended the group’s meeting will vote against the deal, the Mail’s Claire Ellicott reports.
As my colleague Heather Stewart reports, the Tory MP Steve Double described the PM’s deal as a “polished turd”, but possibly the best available.
Here is the Boris Johnson quote where he told MPs they could get a transition without signing the withdrawal agreement - the claim that seemed to provoke Michel Barnier to tweet a rebuttal. (See 6.30pm.) Johnson told MPs:
I’m not in favour of crashing out, as many call it. The Malthouse compromise indicates the way forward; the UK observes single market rules and customs duties, we restrain our right to compete for three years, whilst we negotiate a free trade deal. I believe the EU would be open to this.
Barnier tells MPs not to believe 'dangerous illusion' they can have transition without withdrawal agreement
This is from Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator.
He is referring to the Malthouse compromise notion that the UK could effectively get all the benefits of a transition, without having to sign the withdrawal agreement. (Technically, this is Malthouse compromise plan b, or MCB as some Brexiters call it.)
Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, made exactly this argument only about half an hour before Barnier posted his tweet. (See 5.30pm.) Barnier may well be responding to him directly.
- Barnier tells MPs not to believe the “dangerous illusion” that they can get a transition without a withdrawal agreement.
This is from Sky’s Beth Rigby.
We have now got 22 named Tory switchers - or 23 if we include David Davis. (See 6.02pm.)
According to the Times’ Sam Coates, Sky News are expecting the government to lose by more than 100 votes.
Michael Fabricant, the Tory Brexiter who voted against the deal, is still voting against it.
Earlier I said he was voting in favour. That was my mistake. Sorry.
My colleague Jessica Elgot has more from the ERG meeting.
And the Yorkshire Post’s Liz Bates reckons David Davis will vote for the deal.
As my colleague Dan Sabbagh reports, Davis was not commenting as he left the ERG meeting.
This is from Damien Moore, another Tory switcher. That makes 22 switchers.
Sir Hugo Swire is switching too. That takes us up to 21 Tories who have changed their minds and who are now backing the PM.
That is not quite a flood yet, but if May continues to pick up support at this rate between now and 7pm, the result could be closer than some of us assumed earlier.
Tracey Crouch, the Conservative former minister, voted against the deal in January, but will vote for it tonight. She explains why in a post on her Facebook page. Here is an excerpt.
I am not comfortable with the flawed withdrawal agreement to say the very least but following the attorney general’s statement to parliament today, I am tonight minded to support the deal. It is not perfect but this Brexit is better than the very real risk of no Brexit at all. Even with this flawed deal we stay in the game and have the chance to fight again. Allowing those who oppose the will of the people to take control of the agenda would be a betrayal of 17.3m people who would never trust any of us ever again.
The Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick is now saying he will vote against the deal. Earlier (see 2.56pm) we had him down as voting in favour.
The Daily Mirror’s Pippa Crerar says there are several Labour MPs who in principle would be happy to vote for the deal but who don’t want to stick their necks out to vote for a deal that will fall.
Johnson refers to the threat that parliament might take control of government business.
But that would upend hundreds of years of constitutional practice, he says.
He says he is not in favour of “crashing out”.
He favours the Malthouse compromise plan; under this, the UK would comply with EU rules for three years, while it negotiated a new trade deal.
Boris Johnson says no-deal Brexit is 'only safe route out' of EU
Boris Johnson, the Brexiter former foreign secretary, is speaking in the debate now. He says he had hoped that the EU would make the wholly reasonable changes the UK wanted. But the EU refused to do that.
Like Adam and Eve, they sewed a fig leaf that failed to cover the embarrassment of the UK, he says.
He says the backstop is based on the UK staying in the customs union.
Sylvia Hermon, the independent MP from Northern Ireland, says Johnson during the referendum promised Brexit would allow the UK to take back control. Has he ever visited places like South Armagh? How does he think they will be able to take back control without backstop?
Johnson says he has visited those places.
He says there is no need for a hard border in Ireland.
He says when he was in government he was told there was a minimal legal risk of the backstop being used. But no one would say that now.
This deal has now reached the end of the road. If it is rejected tonight, I hope that it will be put to bed.
He says the UK can leave without a deal. There will be difficulties, but that is “the only safe route out” of the EU.
This is from Andrew Bridgen, the hardline Tory Brexiter, explaining why he is not joining those Brexiter colleagues who are planning to vote for the deal because they fear the alternative will turn out to be a softer Brexit, or no Brexit at all. Bridgen told the Press Association:
The fact is, if they vote for the withdrawal agreement, we’re heading for a Hotel California Brexit where we’ve checked out, but we never actually get to leave.
Seeing that trap, it’s politically expedient to vote for the deal tonight, and the nation will be sighing a big sigh of relief, and then in a few months’ time when they realise the trap they’ve let us fall into in perpetuity, there will be a big backlash.
Sinn Féin has accused the DUP of ignoring the interests of Northern Ireland. Commenting on the DUP’s decision not to vote for the deal tonight, Michelle O’Neill, the Sinn Féin leader in Northern Ireland, said:
The business community, the farming community, the civil service, educationalists and trade unionists have all warned in recent weeks about the dire consequences of a no-deal crash on our economy.
The DUP continues to ignore these warnings, just as they ignore the fact that the majority of people in the north voted against Brexit in the first place.
This blinkered strategy is reckless in the extreme. It is driving us all towards a no-deal crash that would be catastrophic.
At this critical time the DUP have a choice to make. It is time to put people’s jobs, livelihoods and peace first before selfish party political interests.
The DUP has 10 MPs. Sinn Féin has seven, but of course that is often overlooked because they do not take their seats.
The European Research Group is meeting now. And the meeting is being filmed, CityAM’s Owen Bennett reports.
Andrew Mitchell, the Tory former chief whip and former international development secretary, is going to vote for the deal he voted against eight weeks ago, Sky’s Lewis Goodall reports.
The Commons Hansard with the full text of Geoffrey Cox’s statement on his legal advice, and his response to MPs’ questions, is up on the Hansard website now.
As the afternoon goes on, the debate transcript will appear. Normally speeches go up about three hours after they were delivered.
This is from the Telegraph’s Steven Swinford.
From Newsnight’s Nick Watt
'Fasten your seatbelt' if MPs vote against deal, says European commission vice president
Speaking in Strasbourgh, the European commission vice-president, Jyrki Katainen, said if the deal was rejected the prospect of a “hard Brexit” moved closer and his advice was “fasten your seatbelt”. He told reporters:
Depending on the vote in the Commons, we are either moving forward to orderly withdrawal or hard Brexit is closer again, more close than ever it has been.
So, keep your hands on the wheel, look forward and fasten your seatbelt.
In the Commons Owen Paterson, the Tory Brexiter, says he is a member of the ERG. They are called “extremists”, or equivalent to Momentum. But they just want to implement the referendum result, he says.
Johnny Mercer, another Tory who voted against the deal in January, will be backing the PM this evening. He explains why here.
- Theresa May is heading for another clear defeat on her Brexit plan. MPs will vote at 7pm, but the assurances that she negotiated late last night (see 9.24pm for details) have done very little to shift opinion from the vote in January, which she lost by an unprecedented majority (for a government defeat in the democratic era) of 230. The DUP is planning to oppose May for a second time, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, chair of the European Research Group, which represents up to 80 or so Tories committed to a harder Brexit, has suggested that ERG will also vote against. (See 3.11pm.) The ERG is meeting later to try to agree its line. At least 12 Tories who voted against May in January have said they will back her today (see 2.56pm), and more switchers are likely to declare before 7pm, but unless there is an avalanche of vote-shifting, May is still heading for a very heavy defeat in triple figures. The only uncertainty has been created by the clear nervousness among Brexiters that, if they kill the deal tonight, parliament might end up imposing a much softer Brexit, or a referendum. (See, for example, Mark Pritchard at 2.09pm) At Westminster May’s position has never seemed weaker. The government says a vote against the deal will be followed, tomorrow, by a vote on a no-deal Brexit, and then a vote on extending article 50, but there is also a lot of speculation about whether today’s events will also end up bringing down May’s premiership.
- Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, has published legal advice saying, despite the assurances obtained by May last night, the UK could still be trapped in the backstop. (See 11.12am.)
- A panel of lawyers assembled by the Brexit-backing European Research Group of Conservative MPs has rejected the last-ditch concessions secured by May from the EU27 on the Northern Ireland backstop.
- May has urged MPs to back her deal so that they can deliver on the result of the EU referendum. Struggling through her Commons speech, because she was losing her voice, just as she did in her disastrous 2017 conference speech, May said:
It was not this house that decided it was time for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, it was the British people.
It falls to us here to implement their decision, their desire for change, their demand for a better, more open, more successful future for our country.
Today is the day that we can begin to build that future ...
The time has come to deliver on the instruction we were given. The time has come to back this deal and I commend this motion to the House.
- May has announced three measures intended to assure Northern Ireland that it would not lose out through the backstop proposals. First, she told MPs the government would legislate to give the Northern Ireland assembly a say on whether the backstop gets brought into force if new border arrangements are not ready by 2020. If Stormont opposed the backstop, ministers would have to extend the transition instead. Second, she said the government would legislate to ensure Britain maintains the same regulatory standards as Northern Ireland (which, under the backstop, would have to comply with EU standards.) And, third, she said the government would legislate to ban any expansion of North/South cooperation in Ireland through the withdrawal agreement, instead of through the Good Friday agreement.
- Jeremy Corbyn has told MPs that there is a majority in the Commons for a softer Brexit. Responding to May in the debate, he said:
I believe there is a majority in this house for the sort of sensible, credible and negotiable deal that Labour has set out and I look forward to parliament taking back control so that we can succeed where this government has so blatantly failed.
Those people all around this country who at the moment are very, very concerned for their future, their communities, their jobs, in the case of EU nationals their very right to remain in this country, as indeed for British nationals living across the EU - parliament owes it to them to get some degree of certainty by rejecting the prime minister’s proposal and bringing forward what we believe to be a credible set of alternatives. Parliament should do its job today and say no to the prime minister.
Zac Goldsmith, the Tory who voted against the deal in January, says he is still trying to decide how to vote. He is worried about the impact of the deal not going through being even worse.
In the Commons Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, is speaking now.
He says a no-deal Brexit could be “catastrophic”. MPs must vote against it, he says.
The DUP, who have 10 MPs, are voting against the deal, rather than abstaining, the FT’s Laura Hughes reports.
This is from the Tory MP Derek Thomas explaining why he has gone from opposing the deal to supporting it.
Sir Bill Cash, the veteran Brexiter, chair of the European scrutiny committee and chair of the ERG’s “star chamber”, is speaking in the debate in the Commons chamber now.
He starts by saying that “we” will be voting against the deal – implying he is speaking on behalf of the ERG.
The Conservative MP Ben Bradley has written an article for the Guardian explaining why he has changed his mind, and why is is going to back the PM’s deal now.
Here is an extract.
The situation we now find ourselves in is materially different to back in January. Last time we said “no” and we asked May to do better, knowing we had the time and the scope to do that. We have achieved something, and the proposal today is better than what we had in January. The practical reality now is that there is no “further negotiation” without delaying our leaving date, and we have a choice between this deal or facing the votes that would come later this week on “no deal” and the extension of article 50.
There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that though I myself would vote to leave on 29 March, parliament will not. Parliament will vote for extension, and extension leads to further delay, further confusion, and great risk of Brexit not happening at all. Extension or revocation of article 50 is absolutely unacceptable, and is a great betrayal of everything we have promised. The deal is far from perfect, but it does absolutely and finally take those risks off the table. By agreeing to it, we will leave, it will be on 29 March, and we live to fight on and win a better future relationship that is in Britain’s interests.
And here is the full article.
Corbyn says it it thanks to Labour that MPs are getting a meaningful vote. He pays tribute to Sir Keir Starmer and his shadow Brexit team.
He says he thinks there is a majority in the Commons for the sensible, negotiable deal.
Parliament should do its job, and reject the PM’s deal, he says.
My colleague Lisa O’Carroll has more from the Jacob Rees-Mogg Sky News interview.
The Tory MP Scott Mann, who voted against the deal in January, has joined the switchers (see 2.56pm) saying they will now back the deal.
Back in the chamber Jeremy Corbyn is responding to Theresa May.
He says May said that if the UK remained committed to matching EU rules on workers’ rights, there was a risk rights could be reduced, not enhanced.
But that is not right, Corbyn says; he says EU rules are a floor, not a ceiling.
Rees-Mogg suggests ERG more likely to vote against May's deal than to abstain
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory Brexiter and chair of the ERG, has just told Sky News that he has not yet decided how he will vote tonight. He will discuss it with ERG colleagues at a meeting later. The ERG has already issued a statement saying MPs should not back the deal. (See 1.38pm.) Asked if he thought the ERG would abstain, or vote against, Rees-Mogg replied:
I would be surprised if many people want to abstain on an issue of this importance.
Verdict of the Twitter commentariat on Theresa May
May managed to get through her speech, despite her voice sounding close to packing up, and at times she even managed a flash of humour.
But the verdict of the commentariat is damning. Here is a flavour of what people are saying.
From the BBC’s Nick Robinson
From the Financial Times’ Lionel Barber
From ITV’s Robert Peston
From the Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn
From the Daily Mail’s Jason Groves
From HuffPost’s Paul Waugh
In the chamber May is winding up her speech now.
She says now is the time to get this done.
This is what MPs were sent to parliament to do, she says.
She says MPs were sent here to serve. They cannot serve the country by overturning the will of the people, by prolonging a debate that people want to see settled, or by refusing to compromise.
The British people have been clear; they want MPs to deliver Brexit, she says.
The time has come to deliver on the instruction we were given. The time has come to back this deal.
At least 12 Tories planning to back May tonight having voted against her in January
The Tory MP Sir Robert Syms, who voted against the deal in January, has just told May that he will vote for the deal this evening.
Given that the clock is ticking, there are millions of people working in businesses up and down this country that want the most certain outcome, and voting for this deal today is the best way of delivering that.
Voting the deal down will lead to more uncertainty.
None of us know where we’re going to end up.
So I, for one, will be supporting the government and prime minister.
The Spectator has got a list of 10 Tory MPs who were rebels in January but who have now changed their minds. Their names are: Ben Bradley, Nigel Evans, Robert Halfon, Greg Hands, John Lamont, Johnny Mercer, Mike Penning, Mark Pritchard, Derek Thomas, Martin Vickers.
Syms takes the total to 11.
Colleagues tell me Sir Graham Brady is also switching, meaning that we have got the names of 12 Tories who voted against in January who are voting for tonight.
The Labour MPs Caroline Flint and Jim Fitzpatrick are also expected to vote for the deal tonight, having voted against it in January.
That gives May 14 switchers – which reduces the size of the majority against her by 28.
May says the government will legislate to ensure that regulatory standards in Great Britain remain the same as in Northern Ireland. This will address concerns that the backstop could lead to regulatory divergence between NI and GB.
The government has already promised to do this, but May is now committing to make this a legislative obligation.
- May says the government will legislate to ensure that regulatory standards in Great Britain remain the same as in Northern Ireland.
The Green MP Caroline Lucas says May should make her deal subject to a confirmatory vote.
May says people expressed their views in the referendum.
People have changed their minds, some MPs should.
May says there is no evidence that people have changed their minds.
- May claims public opinion on Brexit has not changed.
Actually, the evidence suggests opinion has shifted - but only very slightly. Here is a graph from What UK Thinks, which tracks polling data on this.
Labour’s Roberta Blackman-Woods asks why May is placating the Brexiters on her side, and not reaching out to opposition MPs instead.
May says the response she is getting suggests she cannot be accused of reaching out to Brexiters. She says she has sought to hold meetings with Labour.
Ben Bradley is another Tory MP who voted against the deal in January who is saying he will vote for it tonight.
The president of the European parliament has responded to Geoffrey Cox’s advice that the risk of the UK being trapped in the backstop remains by saying the EU can now make no further concessions. The legal issues identified by the attorney general are “an internal problem of the UK”, Antonio Tajani told reporters. There could be no further reconsideration of the deal by the EU27. “We are very clear,” he said. “It is impossible to change our position.”
Anna Soubry, who recently defected from the Tories to the Independent Group, says this is “too little, too late”. The problem has been May’s refusal to depart from her red lines, she says.
May says she has to deliver on the referendum. And she has to honour the manifesto that she and Soubry both stood on in 2017, she says.
This is from BuzzFeed’s Alex Wickham.
Joanna Cherry, the SNP’s justice and home affairs spokesperson, says May is wrong to say the joint instrument will have the same legal standing as the withdrawal agreement.
May says they both have legal standing.
May is now summarising what the latest changes to the agreement have achieved.
This passage repeats some of what she said in her statement in Strasbourg last night.
These are from ITV’s Robert Peston.
Helen Whately, a Conservative, asks May if she agrees that, if MPs were to vote for an extension of article 50, the EU could set conditions.
May agrees. She says all EU members would have to agree.
May says she is sure she has secured the very best changes available.
May is summarising the changes made to the withdrawal agreement since January.
Labour’s Angela Eagle asks if May will now admit she should have reached out to other parties.
May says MPs comprehensively rejected the Labour plan for Brexit.
She says she has reached out to Labour on this issue.
Sir Edward Leigh, a Tory Brexiter who has been arguing for some time that a unilateral declaration could make the deal acceptable, asks May to confirm that the unilateral declaration is binding on the EU.
May says the EU has not objected to it.
John Lamont, a Scottish Conservative, says he voted against the deal in January. But he implies he is backing May now. He says businesses need certainty.
DUP confirms it won't back deal because 'sufficient progress' not achieved.
The DUP has confirmed it will not back the PM’s deal at this point. This is from Arlene Foster, the party leader.
Mark Pritchard, a Tory Brexiter, says he voted against the deal last time, but will vote for it tonight, unenthusiastically. That is because there has been a material change to the backstop, he says.
[The PM] will know I didn’t support the withdrawal agreement at the last vote and today I will support it, forgive me prime minister, unenthusiastically because I completely agree with her that there is the danger that Brexit will be lost.
There doesn’t appear to be the votes in this House for no deal. There certainly seems to be, could be, the votes in this House for an extension of article 50. None of those would deliver Brexit. They would frustrate and delay it and possibly stop it altogether.
May says failure to vote for the deal could lead to there being no Brexit.
John Woodcock, the independent MP, says Jean-Claude Juncker said last night that this would be the end of the road. (See 10.06am.) There would be no further negotiation. Does May accept that?
May says that is what Juncker said.
Theresa May opens Brexit debate
Theresa May is opening the debate now.
She sounds extremely hoarse - almost worse than she did during her disastrous conference speech in 2017 (when she struggled to get through because her voice was fading.)
Making a joke about it, she says MPs should hear what Jean-Claude Juncker sounds like.
Bercow says no amendments to the motion will be put to a vote
John Bercow, the Speaker, says he has not selected any of the amendments.
That means MPs will move straight to the vote on the government motion at 7pm.
In the Commons MPs are now debating the business motion, setting out the timetable for the debate. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory Brexiter, rises to speak. He says just five hours have been set aside for the debate. That is not enough, he says. And this timetable will not help the government win. He says if people feel they are being hurried, they are less likely to back the government.
He urges the government to allow an extra day for the debate.
He says he will not vote against the business motion, but he wants to make the point.
John Bercow, the Speaker, says no one has tabled an amendment saying an extra day should be allowed.
The business motion goes through on the nod.
Here is another Tory MP who voted against the deal in May but who plans to vote with Theresa May tonight. It is Greg Hands, the former international trade minister.
The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, told RTE News she would be talking to Theresa May today about the latest Brexit developments. As the Press Association reports, Foster said huge decisions have to be made and this is a pivotal moment. She said she would prefer if there was more time to take the decisions, adding that she had sympathy for those calling for tonight’s meaningful vote to be delayed until tomorrow.
The Tory Brexiter Nigel Evans, who voted against Theresa May’s deal in January, has said he will back her tonight. He explained:
I told the prime minister that I will be supporting her tonight.
It’s not ideal; it’s not the best deal that I would have loved, but I do fear that if we don’t get this through tonight, there is the risk that on Thursday parliament will instruct her to get an extension to article 50, and that is something I don’t want to see happen.
What she’s got back from Strasbourg certainly reduces the risk of us being caught in the backstop, and if they try and trap us in then we now have a legal entity that allows us to get out.
It is a step in the right direction.
Evans has always been one of the more pragmatic, compromise-minded of the Tory Brexiters, and so his move will not be a good guide as to how some of his more hardline colleagues will vote later.
John Bercow, the Speaker, brings the Cox statement to an end. There are still MPs who want to speak, but he says there is not time, because dozens of MPs want to speak in the debate later.
Cox says the UK can use the leverage of the backstop as a powerful argument against the EU, because it will not want the UK to remain in it any more than the UK will want it to endure.
This is what Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s leader at Westminster, said in his question to Geoffrey Cox a few minutes ago.
We know already from the Irish government and others what they see as the ultimate destination of Northern Ireland – the backstop is the bottom line. From what the attorney general is saying today, provided there is no bad faith, the fact is that Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom could be trapped if it is a question that the EU does not agree with the United Kingdom to a superseding agreement.
The Conservative MP Charles Walker, a member of the executive of the backbench 1922 Committee, has told the World at One that Theresa May should call an election if she loses the vote tonight.
UPDATE: Here is another quote from Walker’s interview.
If it doesn’t go through tonight, as sure as night follows day, there will be a general election within a matter of days or weeks. It is not sustainable, the current situation in parliament.
ERG urges MPs not to vote for May's deal
In a statement accompanying the publication of his “star chamber” report (see 1.18pm), the Tory Brexiter and ERG member Sir Bill Cash says:
In the light of our own legal analysis and others we do not recommend accepting the government’s motion today.
Not supporting the deal is not necessarily the same as voting against. The DUP may be heading in this direction too. (See 1.21pm.) With mass Tory/DUP abstentions, May would still almost certainly lose, but the scale of the defeat would be much reduced.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory Brexiter and chair of the ERG, asks what penalties would fall on the UK if a future parliament ignored its obligations under the backstop.
Cox says, as a law officer, he would not recommend breaking the law. But if circumstances changed fundamentally, the UK would be able to withdraw from the backstop. A sovereign country can resile from a treaty if circumstances change fundamentally. But he also says that it would be unwise for the country to ignore its legal obligations. This country would not do it, he says.
- Cox says, if circumstances were to change fundamentally, the UK could resile from a treaty.
From Sky’s Ed Conway
The DUP will definitely not back the deal tonight, Sky’s David Blevins reports.
At the last vote, in January, the DUP voted against the deal. From this quote to Blevins, it is not clear if the DUP will actually vote against it or abstain.
ERG's legal 'star chamber' says new assurances do not deliver 'legally binding changes'
Here is the full text of the assessment of the new assurances from the ERG’s “star chamber”. (Bold text as in the original.)
1. Yesterday’s documents considered individually and collectively do not deliver “legally binding changes” to the WA or to the protocol. They fail to fulfil the commitment made by government to the House in response to the Brady amendment “to obtain legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement”.
2. They do not provide any exit mechanism from the protocol which is under the UK’s control. Any exit by the UK from the protocol cannot take place without the agreement of the EU and therefore the position remains as set out in paras 14-16 of the attorney general’s advice dated 13 November 2018 that “the protocol will endure indefinitely until a superseding agreement takes its place”, and that the WA “cannot provide a legal means of compelling the EU to conclude such an agreement”.
3. The suggestion that “bad faith” by the EU could provide a legal route for the UK out of the protocol is not credible in practice within any determinate or reasonable timeframe. The AG’s advice at para 29 was that demonstrably bad-faith conduct on the part of the EU “would be highly unlikely; all they would have to do to show good faith would be to consider the UK’s proposals, even if they ultimately rejected them.” The threshold for demonstrating bad faith before an international tribunal is very high, and nothing in the documents make this a credible possibility.
4. The UK could not unilaterally disapply the protocol by alleging bad faith, but would be bound to submit the dispute to arbitration under part 6 of the WA, and would need a prior finding by the panel of breach on the part of the EU in order to invoke the right under Art.178(2) of the WA to suspend (not terminate) provisions of the WA or protocol. Any arbitration would be at best a lengthy and uncertain procedure which under Art.174 requires a reference to the ECJ of any questions of EU law involved. Even if the arbitration panel found in favour of the UK, para 14 of the joint instrument confirms that it would not enable the UK to exit the backstop.
5. The attorney general’s further advice today (12 March 2019) indicates at para 17 that there is a “reduced risk” of the UK being trapped in the protocol but this is caveated by the words “at least in so far as that situation had been brought about by the bad faith or want of best endeavours of the EU.” We consider that the prospects of such findings against the EU are remote, and note that at para 10 the AG only goes so far as to say that “it is arguable” that the UK could secure termination of relevant obligations under the protocol. Such faint and remote prospects of escaping from the protocol do not materially change the position the UK would find itself in if it were to ratify the WA. We agree with the AG’s final para 19 that “the legal risk remains unchanged that if through no such demonstrable failure of either party, but simply because of intractable differences, that situation does arise, the United Kingdom would have, at least while the fundamental circumstances remained the same, no internationally lawful means of exiting the Protocol’s arrangements, save by agreement.
Steve Baker, the deputy chair of the ERG, says the UK could find itself trapped in the backstop under this plan, unless it agrees to remain in the customs union.
Cox says he does not accept that. He says the timetable in the agreement means the EU would have to work towards getting an alternative. And he says the UK could not stay in the customs union, because it would not be able to negotiate trade deals.
The ERG’s “star chamber” has published its assessment of the new assurances, and it is not convinced, my colleague Jessica Elgot reports.
Chair of ERG 'star chamber' says new assurances do not offer enough protection to Northern Ireland
Sir Bill Cash, the Tory Brexiter and chair of the ERG’s “star chamber” of lawyers, asks Cox if he agrees this deal provides “insufficient protection for Northern Ireland to continue as part of the United Kingdom”.
- Cash, chair of the ERG’s “star chamber”, says the new assurances do not offer enough protection to Northern Ireland.
Cox says he does not agree on this point. He says he hopes he can still persuade Cash to back the deal.
Labour’s Hilary Benn, chair of the Brexit committee, asks Cox to confirm that, if the UK wanted to suspend the backstop, it would have to get the arbitration panel to agree. And any matters of EU law would be referred to the European court of justice.
Cox says Benn is just explaining what the agreement says. But Benn cannot claim that what was agreed last night means nothing. These are “important amplifications”, he says. And, even though it is unlikely that any case would get to an arbitration panel, the fact that the rules have changed could change conduct.
The Scottish National party’s Joanna Cherry says today the emperor has no clothes, “not even a codpiece”. Today’s legal opinion makes it clear that the risk of being kept in the backstop remains the same.
This means what has been obtained falls far short of what was required by the Brady amendment (which called for the backstop to be replaced), or what the ERG demanded.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory Brexiter, says Cox has shown he is an independent adviser to government. That is what he should be.
Cox says the EU has a new obligation to find an alternative to the backstop within 12 months. That is a new obligation, he says. And that means if the parties do not “intensify their efforts” to find a solution they will be in breach of the good faith obligation.
Cox is responding to Thomas-Symonds.
He says he wants to know what Labour’s view of the backstop is. Are they for or against? If they can’t say, people will accuse them of “political opportunism”, he says.
He says it is not true to say there is nothing new in what was agreed overnight. The new documents significantly reduce the risk of EU bad faith being able to keep the UK in the backstop.
He says the house must assume its responsibilities. People are “yearning” for the Commons to vote for the deal, he says.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow solicitor general, says Cox said in the Mail on Sunday (see 11.49am) that he would not change his opinion if there was no change to the risk of being trapped in the backstop. To be fair to Cox, he has not changed his view, he says.
He says the final paragraphs of Cox’s advice “sink” any hopes of the government being able to claim that it has obtained a unilateral right to exit the backstop.
He says if trade talks break down because two sides cannot reach an agreement in their mutual interests, that is not bad faith.
Cox says what was agreed last night strengthens the UK’s case if the EU were to fail in its endeavours to agree an alternative to the backstop.
But ultimately MPs will have to make a political judgment, he says.
Geoffrey Cox's Commons statement
Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, is now making his Commons statement about his legal opinion, which has now been published. (See 11.12pm.)
He says what was agreed last night improves the withdrawal agreement.
He lists the three documents published last night. (See 9.24am.)
He says the legal risk of the UK being stuck in the backstop remains unchanged.
But the house has to make a political judgment about whether the agreement is justified, he says.
This is from the FT’s Laura Hughes.
The key Commons business is about to start.
At 12.30pm Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, will make a statement on his legal advice. That should run for at least an hour.
Then, after a 10-minute rule bill, MPs will vote on the business motion setting the timetable for the debate. Normally that goes through on the nod, but there could be a mini row about MPs not being given enough time to consider the new documents.
Then, perhaps shortly before 2pm, Theresa May will open the debate.
But before she does the Speaker, John Bercow, will announce what amendments he is accepting. There are 10 on the order paper (pdf), although Bercow said last night that he might accept manuscript amendments (amendments submitted today, and hence not printed on the order paper).
Jeremy Corbyn will respond to May. Then the debate will continue until voting starts at 7pm.
This is from BuzzFeed’s Alex Wickham.
Here is another legal opinion saying that what was agreed last night does not significantly alter the impact of the backstop. It is from the law professor Philippe Sands and Sir David Edward QC.
And this is from my colleague Heather Stewart on cabinet.
This is from Politico Europe’s Tom McTague.
At the Brexit select committee Stephen Barclay has faced questioning from Jacob Rees-Mogg which bodes ill for the fate of the government’s plan later today. Rees-Mogg appears very unconvinced that the tweak to the backstop provides the exit mechanism he and other Tory Brexiters seeks. He told Barclay:
This has been advertised as a unilateral ability. It’s not unilateral.
Barclay responded with this:
What is unilateral is what we are asserting, is our interpretation. And the fact this is not disputed by the EU becomes common ground that goes before the arbitrators. So this is not saying this is a unilateral exit in the regard you’re referring to. What it is saying is the ability to trigger our interpretation is what the unilateral declaration is referring to.
This seemed to mean, Rees-Mogg countered, only that the UK was able to ask to leave the backstop, something that was “blindingly obvious to anyone since the withdrawal agreement was produced”. He added: “But the ability to ask is not the same as the ability to leave, is it?”
The Tory Brexiter Andrew Bridgen, one of the most hardline opponents of Theresa May’s deal, said “nothing has changed” as he left the meeting where she was addressing backbenchers after about five minutes, the Press Association reports.
Here is the Spectator’s James Forsyth on what Theresa May has been telling Tory MPs in a private meeting this morning.
Here is my colleague Heather Stewart’s story about the publication of the attorney general’s advice.
In the Brexit committee John Whittingdale, the Tory former culture secretary and a leading Brexiter, said he thought the final paragraph of the attorney general’s opinion (see 11.12am) was “pretty terminal”.
France’s Europe minister has said the deal Theresa May will present to the Commons this evening is “the best Brexit solution”. Nathalie Loiseau tweeted that the EU had “provided all the necessary clarifications. It is now up to the UK: a soft exit, or a brutal divorce.”
Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, called the crunch vote “the last chance to avoid a no-deal”.
George Ciamba, the European affairs minister of Romania, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said that while the EU should “not pre-judge the outcome of the vote”, a disorderly exit would be “the worst scenario”.
These are from my colleague Jessica Elgot on whether Labour MPs will vote with the government tonight.
'My professional reputation is far more important to me than my reputation as a politician' - Cox on why he would not compromise his advice
The publication of Geoffrey Cox’s new legal advice may turn out to be a decisive moment in this saga. In the light of what he has said, it is very hard to see the Tory European Research Group and the DUP deciding to vote with the government tonight. If they remain opposed, Theresa May will be heading for defeat by a three-figure majority.
This could mean that the prospects of May ever getting her deal, or at least a version of it, through parliament are vanishing. This could be a moment that provides a clear shove towards a softer Brexit, or no deal.
It is rare for ministers - and Cox is not even a proper member of the cabinet, although he does attend - to issue pronouncements with quite this impact.
Others in his position might have been tempted to modify their views in the interests of helping the PM. But, in an interview with the Mail on Sunday, Cox explained why that did not appeal to him. He explained:
I have been a barrister for 36 years, and a senior politician for seven months. My professional reputation is far more important to me than my reputation as a politician. If the risk of being trapped in the backstop had not been removed, then I would make it as clear and plain and in exactly the same way as I did on November 13.
This is from Owen Paterson, the former cabinet minister and a leading member of the European Research Group.
This is from Sunday Business’s Hugh O’Connell.
In the Brexit committee Hilary Benn, the Labour chair, asks Barclay to confirm that the new deal does not eliminate the risk of the UK being trapped in the backstop.
Barclay says what is important is the interplay of different parts of the deal.
Pound falls following publication of Cox's legal advice
The pound has fallen following the publication of Geoffrey Cox’s legal advice, Bloomberg reports.
Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, has just started giving evidence to the Commons Brexit committee.
There is a live feed here.
Here is the full text of Geoffrey Cox’s new legal advice.
And Mark Francois, the Tory Brexiter and ERG vice-chair, does not seem to be warming to May’s deal, the Scotsman’s Paris Gourtsoyannis reports.
But the Tory Brexiter John Redwood sounds as if he is still in the no column.
Boris Johnson, the Brexiter former foreign secretary, won’t say how he will vote tonight, the Mail’s Jason Groves reports.
Speaking in the European parliament in Strasbourg, the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, joked of his late evening talks with the British prime minister:
Allow me to tell you a secret: I didn’t sleep much because of Mrs May last night.
He added: “Last night we reached an agreement with the British government about the conditions and consequences of Brexit.”
And what I said last night that it was a second chance but there wouldn’t be a third. So I hope very much that the members of the parliament of the UK today support the approach that has been adopted and adopt the agreed text representing the agreement that has been reached.
Germany’s EU minister, Michael Roth, called on MPs to back the deal when it comes before the Commons on Tuesday evening. “We welcome the agreement last night,” Roth told reporters before a meeting in Bucharest.
This is a far-reaching compromise for the European Union. It is utmost important [to maintain] the integrity of the single market and [have] no new border between Norther Ireland and Ireland. I very much hope the House of Commons will adopt the deal because I don’t see further chances of negotiations ... Everyone should take the responsibility which is necessary for the United Kingdom and the EU27.
The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, tweeted:
Cox says risk of UK being stuck in backstop remains
Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, has published his legal advice (pdf) on the assurances obtained by Theresa May.
Here is his conclusion.
In my letter of 13 November 2018, I advised that the protocol [ie, the backstop] would endure indefinitely in international law and could not be brought to an end in the absence of a subsequent agreement. This would remain the case even if parties were still negotiating many years later, and even if the parties believed that talks have clearly broken down and there was no prospect of a future relationship agreement.
I also advised that in the specific case that situation was due to the EU’s want of good faith and best endeavours, because of the difficulties of proof and the egregious nature of the conduct that would be required to establish a breach by the EU of those obligations, it would be highly unlikely that the United Kingdom could take advantage of the remedies available to it for such a breach under the withdrawal agreement.
I now consider that the legally binding provisions of the joint instrument and the content of the unilateral declaration reduce the risk that the United Kingdom could be indefinitely and involuntarily detained within the protocol’s provisions at least in so far as that situation had been brought about by the bad faith or want of best endeavours of the EU.
It may be thought that if both parties deploy a sincere desire to reach agreement and the necessary diligence, flexibility and goodwill implied by the amplified duties set out in the joint instrument, it is highly unlikely that a satisfactory subsequent agreement to replace the protocol will not be concluded. But as I have previously advised, that is a political judgment, which, given the mutual incentives of the parties and the available options and competing risks, I remain strongly of the view it is right to make.
However, the legal risk remains unchanged that if through no such demonstrable failure of either party, but simply because of intractable differences, that situation does arise, the United Kingdom would have, at least while the fundamental circumstances remained the same, no internationally lawful means of exiting the protocol’s arrangements, save by agreement.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory Brexiter and ERG chair, said earlier that his assessment of the value of what Theresa May secured last night would depend to a large extent on the value of the unilateral declaration obtained by the government. (See 8.49am.)
Here are two legal views.
From Steve Peers, a professor of EU law at the University of Essex
From Jean-Claude Piris, a former head of the EU’s legal service
And, if you’re really committed, Holger Hestermeyer, a reader in international dispute resolution at King’s College London, has a Twitter thread exploring the different types of unilateral declaration. (Warning - not for the faint-hearted.)
Cox to make statement to MPs about Brexit assurances
Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, will give a statement to MPs, Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, has confirmed.
This will happen at 12.30pm unless there is an urgent question, which would come first.
Nick Boles, a Conservative MP committed to avoiding a hard Brexit, has used a Twitter thread to deliver an ultimatum to his Brexiter colleagues.
Theresa May is planning to address Tory MPs at 11.30am, the Times’ Sam Coates reports.
Dominic Grieve, the Conservative former attorney general and one of the MPs pushing for a second referendum, has issued this statement through the People’s Vote campaign saying he does not believe the concessions obtained by May will allow the UK to unilaterally leave the backstop. He said:
I have had the chance to look at the document produced last night and I’m quite clear in my mind it does not allow the UK to terminate the backstop in the event of a breakdown in negotiation; it does not allow the UK to terminate the backstop at a time of its own choosing. The advice issued today from Lord Anderson, Jason Coppel and Sean Aughey [see 9.44am] reinforces my view.
In parliament today I will continue to argue that the agreement does not bear any relationship to what we were offered in the last referendum of 2016. It is significantly different and therefore it should go back to the people – they have a right to vote on this and decide whether to go ahead.
This is from David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, who voted against the deal last time.
Last night Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, said that the EU would not be willing to offer the UK a better deal. He said:
In politics, sometimes you get a second chance. It is what we do with the second chance that counts. Because there will be no third chance.
There will be no further interpretation of the interpretations and no further assurances on the reassurances.
But Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory Brexiter and ERG chair, has said “there must be a chance” of a further renegotiation with the EU. He said:
I would never take the EU saying ‘there will be no change’ at face value, because they said there would be no second round, and there has been.
Ultimately it has to be decided by the council of ministers. So I think this is closer to the deal, but if the prime minister was to ask for more, there must be a chance, yes.
He also said the ERG would be meeting at 6pm to decide how it would vote.
I don’t operate on gut feeling. We’ve got to decide legally whether this works or not.
We’re [the ERG] a very collegiate body. We’re not like the government, where the prime minister decides and then the whips go out and tell people what to do. We’ll have a meeting at 6 o’clock and we will debate the issues surrounding this.
I think on this issue, in reality, MPs will make up their own minds.
Leave Means Leave, which favours a very hard Brexit, has dismissed the concessions obtained by May. In a statement its vice-chair, Richard Tice, said:
The new documents agreed by the prime minister and Mr Juncker should be ignored. Exit is NOT unilateral nor effective: the UK would have to prove bad faith (which is almost impossible) and convince an arbitration panel of EU folk, still subject to ECJ [European court of justice], in order to leave.
The prime minister is conning us all. This agreement still means Northern Ireland would be treated differently to the rest of UK. This is still the worst deal in history, MPs should vote this terrible deal down, believe in Britain and Let’s Go WTO [World Trade Organization].
The DUP are also sympathetic to calls for tonight’s vote to be delayed, to allow MPs more time to study the concessions (see 9.24am), the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg reports.
New assurances don't meet test for allowing UK to override backstop set by ERG, say top lawyers
The People’s Vote campaign, which is campaigning for a second referendum, has this morning released an 11-page legal opinion (pdf) saying the changes secured by May would not allow the UK to leave the backstop unilaterally.
It has been drafted by Lord Anderson QC, Jason Coppel QC and Sean Aughey. People’s Vote says their views should carry more weight than that of the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, because all three are experts in EU and international law, unlike Cox who specialised in commercial law before he joined the government.
Here is their summary.
In our opinion these measures:
a. do not allow the UK to terminate the backstop in the event that negotiations over its future relationship with the EU cannot be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and
b. do not provide the UK with a right to terminate the backstop at a time of its choosing, or indeed at any time, without the agreement of the EU.
The furthest they go is to reiterate the possibility that the backstop might be suspended in extreme circumstances of bad faith on the part of the EU which are highly unlikely to be demonstrated. This was already apparent from the withdrawal agreement, and had been acknowledged in the attorney general’s previous legal advice.
Looking at the measures individually:
a. The joint EU-UK instrument relating to the withdrawal agreement reduces the risk that the UK could be deliberately, and in bad faith, held in the backstop indefinitely. That was only ever a very limited risk. The far greater risk of being held in the backstop indefinitely as a result of the failure of good faith negotiations remains unmitigated.
b. The UK’s unilateral declaration goes beyond the joint instrument only in suggesting that the UK might seek to disapply the backstop as a whole if negotiations had failed because of bad faith on the part of the EU. It does not suggest that there are any circumstances other than proven bad faith in which the backstop might be disapplied. Whether or not the UK’s understanding of the withdrawal agreement is correct will be a matter for the Court of Justice of the EU, which is likely to be sceptical not least because the UK’s declaration goes beyond the terms of the joint instrument.
c. The joint EU-UK statement supplementing the political declaration has no effect whatsoever on the withdrawal agreement but merely explains certain of the parties’ aspirations for the future negotiations and the future relationship.
Taken as a whole, these measures do not come close to meeting the [European Research Group’s] test of clearly worded, “treaty level” provisions which unambiguously override the stipulation of the withdrawal agreement that the backstop shall remain unless and until the UK and the EU agree otherwise.
It is crystal clear that the measures do not alter the fundamental legal effect of the backstop, as previously and correctly explained by the attorney general. The backstop will endure indefinitely, unless and until superseded by another agreement, save in the extreme and unlikely event that in future negotiations the EU acts in bad faith in rejecting the UK’s demands.
This is from the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.
What are the new Brexit documents that have been agreed?
The government motion that MPs will vote on tonight (which is on the order paper [pdf], starting on page 6) asks MPs to approve five documents.
The first two are the ones that were agreed at the end of last year - the withdrawal agreement, and the political declaration.
But then there are three others - agreed last night. They are:
(3) the legally binding joint instrument titled ‘Instrument relating to the agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community’, which reduces the risk the UK could be deliberately held in the Northern Ireland backstop indefinitely and commits the UK and the EU to work to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements by December 2020;
This runs to five pages, and the full text is here (pdf)
(4) the unilateral declaration by the UK titled ‘Declaration by Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning the Northern Ireland Protocol’, setting out the sovereign action the UK would take to provide assurance that the backstop would only be applied temporarily;
This just runs to three paragraphs and the full text is here (pdf).
(5) the supplement to the framework for the future relationship titled ‘Joint Statement supplementing the Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, setting out commitments by the UK and the EU to expedite the negotiation and bringing into force of their future relationship.
This runs to three pages, and the full text is here (pdf).
In addition, the EU released two other documents last night - a statement to the European commission explaining what had been agreed (pdf) and a letter from Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European commission, to Donald Tusk, president of the European council (pdf) explaining the agreement and - crucially - saying that if the UK does not take part in the European elections, it must be out of the EU by 23 May.
Geoffrey Cox denies claim he has been told to change his mind after ruling against May's deal last night
Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, has pronounced. It is only one word (so far) and, in keeping with his habit of making codpiece jokes at the despatch box, it involves a reference to genitalia.
But he was not referring to the deal. He was responding to this tweet, from the Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow.
Irish PM says backstop has not been undermined
Leo Varadkar has described last night’s agreement between Theresa May and Juncker as “positive”.
Ireland’s prime minister who had to cancel a trip to Washington to convene an extraordinary cabinet meeting at 7pm last night said the agreement was “legally binding”, “complementary to the withdrawal agreement” and did not undermine the Irish border backstop.
Here are the main points from his televised statement a few minutes ago.
- Varadkar welcomed what was agreed last night and urged MPs to vote for the deal. He said:
In the context of tonight’s vote in Westminster, the outcome of yesterday’s meeting with Prime Minister May and President Juncker is positive.
I hope and trust the withdrawal agreement will now be endorsed by the House of Commons.
- He said the withdrawal agreement had not been reopened and the backstop had not been undermined. He said:
[These] documents are complementary to the withdrawal agreement and political declaration and aim to provide an additional layer of interpretation, clarification and elaboration to the United Kingdom ahead of a further vote in Westminster ...
In discussions with the UK, the government has worked hand in hand with our EU partners’ institutions, including the commission and the taskforce led by Michel Barnier.
In that work we have insisted that the withdrawal agreement could not be re-written and that the backstop arrangement, while intended to be temporary, must continue to apply unless and until its replaced by future arrangements that achieve the same objective, namely there will be no hard border.
However we’ve also said we would be prepared to offer guarantees and further assurances to the UK of our good faith and intentions.
Indeed we’ve offered such reassurances on many occasions, the instrument agreed yesterday puts those assurances on a legal footing and represents an unambiguous statement by both parties of what has been agreed.
It does not re open the withdrawal agreement or undermine the backstop or its application.
It says we will work together in good faith, in pursuit of a future relationship that ensures the objectives of the protocol, particularly the need to avoid a hard border are met.
- He said the EU was committed to exploring alternatives to the backstop. He said:
We are also committed to exploring alternatives in a timely way in the event that the overall future relationship cannot be concluded in a satisfactory and a timely manner.
But it does not call into question that the backstop will apply unless and until better arrangements are agreed, with all parties in good faith and best endeavours to that aim.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative MP who chairs the European Research Group, which represents up to 80 Tories pushing for a harder Brexit, is on the Today programme now.
Q: What is your reaction to the deal?
Rees-Mogg says he is waiting to see. A group of lawyers set up by the ERG (the so-called Star Chamber) will examine it at 9am. And Geoffrey Cox’s advice will be important too.
He says the key thing is that the UK can get out of the backstop.
Q: Are you disposed to look at this favourably?
Rees-Mogg says he is a Conservative. He is always disposed to be favourable to a Conservative government.
He says he is not sure that the agreements with the EU make a big difference. That is why he wants to know if the unilateral declaration from the UK is really unilateral.
And he says he will be very interested in what the DUP says.
Q: Can you vote for it tonight?
Rees-Mogg suggests if the unilateral declaration is genuinely unilateral, then he could. But he says it will depend what the DUP and the star chamber will say.
He stresses that he is not a lawyer.
And, repeating the point made by Iain Duncan Smith earlier (see 7.18am), he says it would be better to delay tonight’s vote to allow MPs time to look at the new documents in detail.
This is from Sky’s economics editor, Ed Conway.
Q: A general election is a real possibility, isn’t it?
Gove says he does not accept that.
And that’s it. He has finished.
Today’s John Humphrys puts it to Gove that Varadkar said the withdrawal agreement remained unchanged.
Gove says its terms remain unchanged. But there has been an addition. Chapter one of a book may be unchanged, but chapter two may change the story, he says.
Q: Do you know as a fact that the attorney general shares your view on this?
Gove says he does not know what the attorney general’s legal advice will say.
Q: Will Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, appear before MPs?
Gove says that’s a matter for the speaker, but there are ways of ensuring he can be made to appear, he says (ie, an urgent question).
- Gove implies Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, will takes questions on the deal in the Commons later.
The Today programme interrupts the interview to broadcast a statement from Leo Varadkar, the Irish PM.
Varadkar says the outcome last night was “positive”. He says he hopes MPs will vote for the deal now. He says Ireland insisted that the backstop would have to apply until replaced by new arrangements to avoid a hard border.
But the EU always said it did not want the backstop to be permanent. The assurances offered last night underline that, he says.
He says the EU is also committed to exploring alternatives in a timely way.
Gove says May has not failed. She has succeeded in doing what she set out to do.
Q: What happens if MPs vote to extend article 50 later this week? What is the plan B?
Gove says if people choose not to support “the enhanced withdrawal agreement”, and if they vote against no deal, there will be “a lengthy period of uncertainty”.
He says the EU may agree to an article 50 extension. But it may impose conditions, and we do not know what those conditions could be.
- Gove says, if MPs vote to extend article 50, the EU could impose conditions.
Gove says if the UK were kept in the backstop the UK would have unfettered access to EU markets. But EU nationals would not be free to come to the UK.
EU fishermen would not have access to UK waters. But UK fishermen would be able to sell their fish to the EU.
This would be “deeply uncomfortable” for the EU, he says.
Gove says, if MPs do not back this deal, then the UK could end up leaving without a deal.
Q: So why the rush? Iain Duncan Smith says you should wait. (See 7.18am.)
Gove says it is “make your mind up time” now for MPs.
He says the government has made the changes demanded by MPs to the backstop.
And MPs wanted alternative arrangements, to ensure the backstop is not needed. The government has secured an agreement that the EU will work on this.
Q: Will Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, says this is legally binding?
It is legally binding, Gove says.
Q: Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, told this programme earlier this was not legally binding.
Gove says no one is denying that the new interpretive instrument has equal legal standing to the withdrawal agreement.
Q: But the withdrawal agreement remains in place.
Gove says it is clearer than every before that, if the EU were to act in bad faith, the UK could prove that in court, and it would be free.
Q: The new agreement “reduces the risk” of the UK being trapped in the backstop. It does not remove it, does it?
Gove says, if the EU tried to keep the UK in the backstop, the UK could use international law to extricate itself.
Q: Only if the EU were acting in bad faith?
Gove says this is an improvement on what was on offer in January.
As in any contract, if one side (the EU) acts in a way not in accordance with its obligations, the other side (the UK) can go to court and win.
And he says the EU has not objected to the UK’s unilateral declaration. That means it has standing, he says.
Michael Gove's Today interview
Michael Gove, the environment secretary and the most senior Brexiter in cabinet, is being interviewed on the Today programme.
Q: Will there definitely be a vote tonight?
Yes, says Gove.
(Which sounds definite - although the last time he promised on the Today programme a vote would go ahead, it was later pulled.)
- Gove says government is rejecting calls for Brexit vote to be delayed.
Theresa May's three key challenges - Snap analysis
Good morning. I’m Andrew Sparrow, taking over from Matthew Weaver.
In what is going to be of intense drama, and news overload, it is always helpful to step back and think about what are the big issue that are going to get resolved today. Here are three.
1 - How many MPs will Theresa May win over with the concessions she won last night? Some 118 Tories voted against her deal in the first meaningful vote in January. Many of them, worried by the prospect of Brexit being “stolen” by the second referendum campaign, seem to be keen to find reasons why they can be persuaded to vote for her deal now. There don’t seem to be any Westminster observers who expect May to win the vote tonight (assuming it is not delayed for 24 hours, as Iain Duncan Smith said it should be, to give everyone more time to read the new documents), but she could lose by a lot less than the record 230-vote government defeat we saw in January.
2 - Will May do well enough to persuade MPs, and the EU, that she has a chance of getting her deal over the line in a third meaningful vote? It is impossible to know for sure what the benchmark will be, not least a figure that might look potentially disappointing now (a defeat by 100-odd votes) could, by 7pm, look rather different, because context and expectations will have changed. But if May only loses by 50 (implying she would only need to change the minds of 25 MPs in a third vote), that will probably feel like a very good result. And it is hard to see how she will spin a defeat by 150 or more as anything other than another disaster.
3 - Will May retain the initiative, or will parliament start to take control? If May loses tonight, MPs are expected to vote later this week to extend article 50. Some MPs want to use this as the start of a process that will see them finding a Commons majority for a softer Brexit. May, of course, wants to head them off by getting her deal through. This issue won’t be resolved by the end of today, but we may have a better idea as to whether parliament, or the prime minister, is getting the upper hand.
ITV’s political editor Robert Peston predicts that May’s deal will be voted down by another big margin because she has failed to secure guarantees on the backstop.
Writing on Facebook he says:
That means too few Tory Brexiter MPs will change their mind that her form of Brexit is a pact with the EU that no proudly independent nation could ever sign.
Even Northern Ireland’s DUP MPs, who are desperate to cease their opposition to the PM’s deal and really want to back the PM at the last, will struggle to justify doing so.
Which means I can see no route to victory for her and meaningful vote tonight - which I would expect her to lose by another significant margin.
If so, she would face decisions of moment for all of us and for herself.
Would she work with parliament to take a no-deal Brexit off the table - or stick to her own official policy and work against MPs who want a different Brexit or even no Brexit at all?
And would she take this latest and perhaps greatest diplomatic and political humiliation on the chin, as she has so many others, and battle on.
Or could she decide that she has done what she can to execute the revealed will of the British people to leave the EU, against the constant opposition of MPs from all sides, and it may now be time for another prime minister to finish the job.
Starmer added: “As people read through this document they are going to say ‘look in reality it hasn’t really changed anything’.
He said the changes that the prime minister claimed to have secured were already in the withdrawal agreement. And he likened the unilateral agreement on the backstop to an individual’s own interpretation of their household insurance policy.
Everything is now going to rest, I think, on the attorney general, who is going to give his advice this morning. If he concludes there isn’t significant change I really don’t see that there is a basis for him to change his advice.”
He needs to make a statement in the House of Commons so that he can then face questions so we can all quiz him.
Starmer was asked whether Labour would back the deal if Cox said legal assurances had been secured on the backstop. He didn’t give a straight answer.
In statement Starmer has set out why he thinks the agreement remains unchanged:
Shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, is doing the rounds of broadcast interviews to argue nothing much has changed.
Speaking on Today, Starmer called on Geoffrey Cox to make a statement in parliament about what he now makes of the deal.
He said Cox’s advice would be “central”.
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve says he’ll be voting against.
Polling guru John Curtice of Strathclyde University has been analysing the potential public response to May’s deal changes announced overnight.
He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme:
When you look at public opinion and ask people what they most want it’s either leaving without a deal or having another referendum. The public is polarised.
One of the problems our politicians are facing is they try to make these attempts of coming up with a compromise that would satisfy the majority, but the centre ground on the Brexit issue is very thinly populated. The risk with all these compromises is that they end up looking friendless.
Stating that it is now highly unlikely that the UK will leave the EU at the end of March, he said that a longer extension was not popular with the public.
If the aim is the so-called technical extension, the public would accept it, however what’s also being discussed is if she cannot get a deal through and a majority of the public though not the majority of leave voters don’t want to leave without a deal, so therefore they’ll want the extension. But the kind of extension the EU potentially has in mind is rather a long one and so far the polls suggest the public aren’t minded to back the idea of us still being in the EU at the end of 2020.
Asked what the results of a second EU referendum might be, Curtice said:
Would a very close to call. On average across the UK at as a whole it’s 53% for remain 47% for leave but much of the movement since 2016 comes from the views of those who did not vote in 2016. They are 2 to 1 in favour of remain but there’s very little evidence that leave voters have switched so the question is whether these voters who didn’t vote in 2016 would turn out this time.
Jeremy Corbyn is urging MPs to reject the deal claiming that May’s efforts to renegotiate her deal have failed.
Duncan Smith said the ERG’s legal team were combing through the new assurances agreed last night to see whether or not the words of the document match the words from the statement. He told Today:
If these assurances are correct then it does get to deal with this over arching issue of the backstop. It is important because separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom is a political no-no for anyone who believes in the union.
If the EU still has the possibility of keeping us in a backstop, basically as rule takers, without having any say in it whilst paying money, then that means they control all of the negotiation and it means we will be served up what they want and we won’t be able to negotiate. If, however, it is correct that this backstop is now both temporary and we can leave it at the moment of our choosing, then that means we become a balanced partner in the negotiation. And that is how critical this really is.
This is very technical and we need to know, first and foremost what the attorney general’s view [is]. Does it changes his opinion? And we would like to see him at the dispatch box because he needs to be cross examined by members of parliament.
Former Tory leader and leading Brexiter, Iain Duncan Smith, says individual MPs will have to make their own decisions about how to vote after listening to the legal advice.
Speaking to the Today programme he called for a 24-hour delay in the meaningful vote to have time to digest the deal and cross examine the attorney general Geoffrey Cox in the Commons.
The work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, is urging MPs to back the deal.
Former minister Sam Gyimah, who resigned over Brexit, isn’t going to back it.
Brexiter backbencher, Nadine Dorries, is waiting for guidance from the attorney general and the ERG legal team but she now appears minded to support the deal.
She tweets: “I am really hopeful that when the text has been scrutinised that it may just take us over the line A good deal has always been better than a bad deal.”
Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has written a piece for the Guardian in which he argues that the idea the Commonwealth can save Brexit Britain is the “nuttiest of nutty arguments”.
If Britain proceeds with giving effect to what future historians will legitimately describe as the longest suicide note in history by leaving the union, the cold, hard reality is that the mathematics simply don’t stack up in terms of credible economic alternatives to Europe. Much as any Australian, Canadian and New Zealand governments of whichever persuasion would do whatever they could to frame new free-trade agreements with the UK, the bottom line is that 65 million of us do not come within a bull’s roar of Britain’s adjacent market of 450 million Europeans.
As for India, good luck! India’s trade and commerce bureaucracy is the most mercantilist and outright protectionist in the world. They virtually single-handedly sank the Doha round in 2009. In the same year, as prime minister of Australia, I launched a free-trade negotiation with Delhi. But a decade later, those negotiations remain at a standstill. The Australian economy is only 50% the size of Britain’s. A substantive India-UK FTA is the ultimate mirage constructed by the Brexiteers. It’s as credible as the ad they plastered on the side of that big red bus about the £350m Britain was allegedly paying to Brussels each week. Not.
So as a former chair of the Commonwealth ministerial action group, it’s my melancholy duty to report that the idea the old (or for that matter newer) Commonwealth could possibly substitute for Britain’s current economic arrangements with Brussels is an illusion.
Full story is here.
Conservative MP for Windsor Adam Afriyie has been reading the new EU withdrawal documents this morning, and he seems unimpressed.
If you would like to read the changes that have been made to the Brexit withdrawal agreement (because what else are you going to read while eating your Cornflakes on a Tuesday morning?), you can see them here:
The Independent Group of MPs has responded to the Brexit motion to be debated today.
What happens this week?
Theresa May will bring her Brexit deal back to parliament for MPs to be given the chance to accept or reject it in the so-called meaningful vote two.
After the government’s historic defeat by 230 votes on 15 January, the prime minister promised to hold cross-party meetings “to identify what would be required to secure the backing of the house”.
She has since announced £1.6bn for a towns fund in the hope of winning over Labour MPs from leave-voting areas, and new promises on workers’ rights, including the opportunity to vote on new EU directives on the labour market.
Most of the government’s focus, however, has been on trying to persuade the EU27 to provide “legally binding guarantees” on the Irish backstop.
On Monday night the government said it had secured those changes.
What happens if May loses the vote?
It depends how badly. Defeat by a narrow margin, of fewer than say 50 votes, could allow her to have another go in a third meaningful vote.
Received wisdom in Westminster is that a loss by more than about 50 votes would be a catastrophe, because it suggests May’s deal is irretrievably unpopular.
In that case, she could come under intense pressure from former remainers, from cabinet downwards, to let parliament decide on the next steps – by which they mean seek a softer Brexit. Under Conservative party rules May cannot be challenged until December, but she could decide she has finally run out of road and step aside.
Might we still get a public vote of some sort?
It is possible, particularly if there is a long-ish extension to article 50, giving advocates of a referendum time to rally support in parliament.
As it stands, it appears unlikely there would be a majority for the idea, with around 10 Conservative MPs willing to support it, and up to 30 Labour MPs willing to defy the whip to vote against.
So should we start stockpiling?
Not quite yet. It is highly likely that if May’s deal is voted down again, MPs will agree a delay to Brexit this week. The EU27 are likely to follow suit, provided they are able to see some way ahead by which a majority in parliament could be found.
Any extension of article 50, particularly a short one, would only set up another cliff-edge a few weeks or months ahead. Some ministers believe that could finally be the thing that brings Brexiters into line behind May’s deal. If not, a so-called “no-deal by accident” remains a serious risk.
Heather Stewart’s full guide to the week ahead is here.
How the papers covered last night's deal
The news that May had reached an agreement in Strasbourg came late, with some papers featuring older Brexit stories on the front pages of their first edition papers, or splashing on the latest news from the Ethiopian Airlines clash, before updating to the more recent Brexit news for later editions.
The papers variously covered the news with scepticism and triumphalism. The Express echoed May’s order to MPs: “Now get behind this deal and let’s unite Britain”, several papers, including the Guardian (“May secures ‘improved’ deal - but will it be enough?”) asked whether the 11th-hour manoeuvring will be enough to win over her anti-Europe MPs and convince them to vote for her deal today. And the FT highlighted the last-minute nature of the deal, saying: “After days of bruising talks and the near collapse of negotiations on Sunday, Mrs May made a dramatic final effort to win over some of the 100 Conservative Eurosceptic MPs who have threatened to derail her deal and her premiership.”
Here’s the full wrap of how the papers covered the news.
What will happen today?
- The prime minister arrived back at Downing Street in the early hours of Tuesday morning after returning from talks with EU leaders Strasbourg.
- May is expected to chair a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning
- Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, will publish an update of his legal advice on the deal, in light of the changes on Tuesday morning.
- The motion will be debated in the Commons in the afternoon, until 7pm.
- Votes are held in the evening.
What have they said about the changes to the deal?
“This evening’s agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes Theresa May promised Parliament, and whipped her MPs to vote for,” said Jeremy Corbyn last night.
“Since her Brexit deal was so overwhelmingly rejected, the prime minister has recklessly run down the clock, failed to effectively negotiate with the EU and refused to find common ground for a deal Parliament could support.”
The shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, cast doubt on whether the changes would actually be legally binding, saying: “It sounds again that nothing has changed.”
He said: “If all that’s happening is to turn this letter into an interpretative tool for legal purposes, I remind the house what the prime minister said on 14 January about this letter.
The leader of the Democratic Unionist party, Arlene Foster, whose MPs the prime minister relies on to get legislation through parliament, said: “These publications need careful analysis. We will be taking appropriate advice, scrutinising the text line by line and forming our own judgement.”
Nigel Dodds, the Westminster leader of the Democratic Unionist Party said: “All of this will need to be taken together and analysed very carefully.”
Steve Baker, an ERG member and former Brexit minister, said the government had put “a very good gloss on something that falls short”. But he later added: “Now we have the outline of what has been agreed, I look forward to the full text and the opinion of the team of lawyers we have set up to advise us … it’s good to see rising enthusiasm and reference in legal text to the Malthouse compromise.”
Good morning, politics-watchers. It’s going to be a big day!
Last night, in what the papers variously called a “last-minute”, “11th-hour”, and “dramatic final” effort, Theresa May secured changes to her Brexit deal, which will go before the parliament for a vote today.
If it feels like we’ve been round this roundabout before, you’re not crazy. Today’s vote follows the historic defeat of May’s deal by 230 votes in January, which hinged in large part on objections to the backstop. After that defeat, May promised MPs that she would secure a unilateral exit mechanism from the backstop, a time-limit or its replacement with an alternative arrangement, such as a technological fix.
May declared in Strasbourg that the guarantees she secured from the EU achieves this, gaining the “legally binding changes” parliament wanted to ensure the EU cannot trap the UK in the Irish backstop and a permanent customs union.
It is unclear if the motion will pass the House today, with May needing to persuade dozens of hardline Europsceptics in the Conservative and Democratic Unionist party, whose refusal to back the original agreement led to the record Commons in January.
If the deal does not pass, MPs will be granted a vote on Wednesday on whether to proceed to a no-deal Brexit on 29 March and another on Thursday on whether to extend article 50.
It’s going to be dramatic day. I’ll be wrangling the blog until the unrivalled Andrew Sparrow takes over later in the morning, so please get in touch through the comments, on Twitter or via email: email@example.com, with thoughts, questions, jokes, and reaction from your part of the world to the developments.