Theresa May on course for historic defeat as Hilary Benn withdraws Brexit amendment

Posted On: 
15th January 2019

Theresa May is on course for an historic Commons defeat on her Brexit deal tonight after a Labour MP withdrew an amendment which could have reduced the scale of her loss.

The Prime Minister urged her MPs to back the deal to avoid Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister.
Credit: 
PA

MPs will finally be given the chance to pass their verdict on the withdrawal agreement the Prime Minister struck with Brussels last year.

The Prime Minister will hold a series of face-to-face meetings with wavering MPs ahead of tonight's vote, but all the signs are that she is heading for one of the largest government defeats in modern political history.

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In a fresh blow for Mrs May, an amendment in the name of former Labour frontbencher Hilary Benn, which would have effectively killed off the Prime Minister's deal and ruled out a no-deal exit, is to be withdrawn.

It is understood that Tory MPs were being encouraged to vote for it so it could pass and therefore limit the size of the Prime Minister's subsequent defeat.

But Mr Benn said: "I have decided to withdraw my amendment to the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement motion today which would have rejected both the PM’s deal and leaving with no deal.

"It’s vital that we now get the clearest expression of view from the House on the Government’s deal - like many others I will vote against it - but I intend to pursue a ‘no to no deal’ vote at the earliest opportunity."

The Brexit Select Committee chair added: "If the Prime Minister loses tonight the Government must reach out across the House to try and find a way forward.  If this doesn’t happen, then Parliament will have to take the lead."

More than 100 Conservative MPs have publicly spoken out against the agreement, while the DUP - who Mrs May relies on for her Commons majority - has savaged the deal.

Meanwhile, few Labour MPs appear to have been convinced to jump sides in recent weeks.

Mrs May last night pleaded with Conservative MPs to back her deal in a behind-closed-doors meeting, with one minister present saying she had told them to "come together" and keep Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn "as far away from Number 10 as possible".

She also told the Commons: "Over these next 24 hours, give this deal a second look. No it is not perfect. And yes it is a compromise.

"But when the history books are written, people will look at the decision of this House tomorrow and ask: did we deliver on the country's vote to leave the European Union?

"Did we safeguard our economy, our security and our Union? Or did we let the British people down?"

Crucial to the PM's fate today will be a clutch of amendments put forward by MPs demanding that she change course.

More than a dozen have been tabled, with Speaker John Bercow revealing which ones he has chosen for debate at around 10.30am.

MPs are also pushing to seize control of the Brexit process if the deal falls, while Number 10 has said it will back amendments seeking to give Parliament more say over the implementation of the controversial Northern Ireland backstop.

The Government has also said it will back an amendment to protect workers' rights in a bid to woo Labour MPs.

But Mr Corbyn - who could call for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister as soon Tuesday evening - told his MPs last night: "Theresa May has attempted to blackmail Labour MPs to vote for her botched deal by threatening the country with the chaos of no deal.

"I know from conversations with colleagues that this has failed. The Labour party will not be held to ransom."

Under an amendment passed last week, Mrs May will have until next Monday night to return to the House of Commons with her plan B if she is defeated.

SECOND VOTE

If she loses the vote, the PM then could make an immediate Commons statement pledging to press the European Union for fresh changes to the deal.

But a Cabinet source told the Telegraph: "If she loses by more than 100 votes, and it looks like there is no way of persuading more than a few Tory rebels to change their minds, that would be pretty disastrous for the PM and hard for her to carry on.

"But if she lost by 100 or so votes and there were 80 or 90 rebels who might change their mind if she could get something meaningful from Brussels, then it's possible she could stay on."

Mrs May will also chair a meeting of Cabinet this morning, at which she is expected to set out what her plans are if, as expected, she loses tonight.

The Sun reports that Mrs May will tell her top ministers that she intends to press for a second vote on her deal if MPs reject it, after a hint of fresh concessions from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A senior Government figure told the paper: "Merkel believes there is more the EU can do once the vote is over as no deal would be a disaster for everyone, and they agreed to talk after it."

But such a move could anger Cabinet colleagues who want Mrs May to come up with an alternative plan that can command a Commons majority.

An ally of Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd told the Sun she would today urge Mrs May to "reach across the House" if her deal is rejected.

In a further blow for the PM, her deal last night suffered a heavy defeat in the House of Lords, with peers backing a Labour motion warning the deal would damage the UK's economy and security by 321 votes to 152.