Theresa May vows MPs will get a veto on Brexit backstop in bid to save deal
Theresa May has promised MPs that they will get a vote on whether or not to enter the Northern Ireland backstop, as she raced to save her Brexit deal ahead of next week’s crunch Commons vote.
The Prime Minister vowed that MPs would be given a say on Britain either entering the arrangement - which would see the entire UK tied to EU customs rules to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland - or extending the Brexit transition period which is currently due to run out at the end of December 2020.
The backstop has proved by far the most contentious aspect of Mrs May’s Brexit deal, with the PM pressing European leaders over the Christmas break for fresh assurances that the UK will be able to leave the arrangement.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mrs May insisted “further clarification” from Brussels on the backstop was still possible.
“But we’re also looking at what more we can do domestically to safeguard the interests of the people and businesses of Northern Ireland,” she added.
“And that’s why this morning we published a package of commitments that give Northern Ireland a strong voice and role in any decision to bring the backstop into effect.
“We’ve also been looking at how Parliament can take a greater role as we take these negotiations on to the next stage.
“And so I can tell the House that in the event that our future relationship or alternative arrangements are not ready by the end of 2020, Parliament will have a vote on whether to seek to extend the implementation period or bring the backstop into effect.”
Brexiteers fear that the backstop - which will only be triggered if the two sides cannot agree a way to avoid a hard border by the end of 2020 - would stop Britain from setting its own trade policy. Meanwhile the DUP - who Mrs May relies on for her Commons majority - objects to plans to keep Northern Ireland bound to further EU rules.
But any moves to give Westminster a veto over the arrangement are likely to anger the EU, which has repeatedly stated that it is not prepared to grant fresh concessions on a plan it sees as crucial to any Brexit deal.
Mrs May revealed the fresh plan as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused her of securing only “window-dressing” in her bid to win MPs’ support ahead of next week’s Commons vote on the deal.
The Prime Minister was forced to shelve a December vote on the agreement in the face of overwhelming opposition, and Mr Corbyn said she had spent “the last week begging for warm words from EU leaders and achieved nothing”.
“Not one single dot or comma has changed,” he said. “She’s already squandered millions of pounds of public money on last minute, half-baked planning for a no-deal that was rejected last night.
“So if her deal is defeated next week as I hope and expect it will, will the Prime Minister do the right thing and let the people have a real say and call a general election?”
Mrs May shot back: “We’ve put a good deal on the table that protects jobs and security. But I noticed in all of that that we still don’t know what Brexit plan the right honourable gentleman has.
“I was rather hoping as he went through that he might turn over a page and actually find a Brexit plan.”