May offers vote on delaying Brexit beyond March 29 if her plan is rejected

British Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to give MPs a vote on extending Brexit negotiations or withdrawing from the EU without a deal if her plan is rejected next month.

In a dramatic statement to the House of Commons, Mrs May confirmed that she will put her Withdrawal Agreement – including whatever additional assurances she has secured from Brussels – to a “meaningful vote” by March 12.

If that fails, MPs will be offered two separate votes the following day – one on a no-deal Brexit, and the other on requesting an extension to the two-year Article 50 negotiation process to delay EU withdrawal beyond March 29.

The sequence of votes will be proposed in an amendable motion tabled by the Prime Minister for debate and vote in the Commons on Wednesday.

To uproar in the Commons, Mrs May told MPs: “They are commitments I am making as Prime Minister and I will stick by them, as I have previous commitments to make statements and table amendable motions by specific dates.”

Theresa May made her announcement in a statement to the House of Commons (www.parliamentlive.tv/PA)
Theresa May made her announcement in a statement to the House of Commons (www.parliamentlive.tv/PA)

Meanwhile, Mrs May said the Government was publishing a paper assessing its readiness for a no-deal Brexit and the "very serious challenges" it would pose.

"I believe that if we have to, we will ultimately make a success of a no-deal," she said.

"But this paper provides an honest assessment of the very serious challenges it would bring in the short-term and further reinforces why the best way for this House to honour the referendum result is to leave with a deal."

Opposition response

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he had "lost count" of the Prime Minister's explanations for her "grotesquely reckless" delays.

He said: "I have lost count of the number of times the Prime Minister has come to this House to explain a further delay.

"They say history repeats itself, first time as tragedy, second time as farce, by the umpteenth time it can only be described as grotesquely reckless."

Mr Corbyn said Mrs May was promising to achieve "something she knows is not achievable" and her "obstinacy" was the block to a resolution.

"Will she be straight with people?" he said. "The Withdrawal Agreement is not being reopened, there is no attempt to get a unilateral exit on the backstop or a time limit.

"She has so far promised a vote on her deal in December, January, February and now March, and only managed to put a vote once - in January when it was comprehensively defeated.

"The Prime Minister continues to say it is her deal or no deal, but this House has decisively rejected her deal and has clearly rejected no deal.

"It is the Prime Minister's obstinacy that is blocking a resolution."

The Prime Minister hit out at Mr Corbyn over Labour's support for a second referendum.

"He has gone back on his promise to respect the referendum result and now wants to hold a divisive second referendum that would take our country right back to square one," she said.

"Anyone who voted Labour at the last election because they thought he would deliver Brexit will rightly be appalled. "

Mr Corbyn said Mrs May has become an "expert in kicking the can down the road", adding: "The problem is the road is running out and the consequences of running down the clock are evident and very real for industry and for people's jobs."

He argued Labour accepts the result of the 2016 referendum and the party is offering an alternative plan.

Mr Corbyn went on: "The Prime Minister's botched deal provides no certainty or guarantees for the future and was comprehensively rejected by this House."

He added: "If it somehow does pass in some form at a later stage, we believe there must be a confirmatory public vote to see if people feel that's what they voted for.

"A no-deal outcome would be disastrous and that's why we committed to backing the amendment in the names of (Labour MP Yvette Cooper and Tory MP Sir Oliver Letwin) to rule out that reckless cliff-edge Brexit."

Mr Corbyn said Mrs May appeared to be "belatedly listening" to the Commons, adding: "Any extension is only necessary because of the Prime Minister's shambolic negotiations and her decision to run down the clock."

Mrs May hit back, accusing Mr Corbyn of "breaking his promise to respect the 2016 referendum" and accusing him of being the one keeping no-deal on the table.

Prime Minister Theresa May updated MPs in the House of Commons, London, on the latest in the Brexit negotiations. (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Theresa May updated MPs in the House of Commons, London, on the latest in the Brexit negotiations. (PA Wire)

She said: "My sole focus throughout all of this has been getting us a deal that gets us out of the EU on the 29th of March with a deal.

"It is the Right Honourable Gentleman that has kept no deal on the table by refusing to agree to a deal.

"And now he talks about uncertainty on jobs - he could have voted to end uncertainty on jobs by backing the deal the Government brought back from the European Union."

The PM added: "He says he and the Labour Party accept the result of the referendum, and yet we also know that they back a second referendum.

"By backing a second referendum he is breaking his promise to respect the 2016 referendum. He'll be ignoring the biggest vote in our history and he'll be betraying the trust of the British people."

Independent Group MP Sarah Wollaston, a former Tory, said: "All that's on offer from the PM is the possibility of a short gangplank added to the cliff edge."

Independent Group MP Angela Smith said: "Once again May refuses to take the difficult decisions and kicks the can down the road.

"We have already voted against no deal and we have voted against her deal. Only way forward is to put the Withdrawal Agreement to the people for ratification."

Independent Group MP Chuka Umunna said: "Yet again, the PM caves in to the far right Tory ERG.

"She had the chance to take no deal off the table today but it is very much still there.

"When will sensible ministers stand up to her and them? What will it take for these people to put country before party? Appalling."

Independent Group member Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) said: "This is a shameful moment, nothing has changed, apart from the fact that some of us who used to sit over there are now sitting over here.

"One of the reasons for that is because yet again we see in the Prime Minister a can kicking at the same time that fudge is being created and a failure to put the country and the nation's interests first, instead the future of the Conservative Party is put first and foremost."

She asked Mrs May to confirm whether "indeed nothing has changed and no-deal remains firmly on the table"?

Mrs May replied: "She talks about acting in the national interest. At every stage of this the national interest has been the focus of the work that I have been doing."

She added: "That is why I intend to work to bring back to this House, changes that this House can support and changes that ensure that we will be able to leave the EU and do so with a deal."

PA & Digital Desk

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