Theresa May wins 'legally binding' Brexit deal changes after last-minute Strasbourg dash

Posted On: 
12th March 2019

Theresa May has secured "legally binding" changes to her Brexit deal - just hours before MPs will be asked to cast their verdict on it in the Commons.

The Prime Minister said MPs had been 'clear on the need for legally binding changes to the backstop'.
Credit: 
PA

Following a last-minute dash to Strasbourg, the Prime Minister said she had secured the alterations to the withdrawal agreement demanded by MPs after they overwhelmingly rejected her EU deal in January.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Prime Minister had "failed" to deliver on her promises to Parliament.

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Mrs May - who will chair a meeting of her Cabinet on Tuesday morning - now faces an anxious wait to see if the new-look deal has won the backing of the DUP and Tory Brexiteer backbenchers.

They have been demanding that the agreement does not keep the UK locked in the Irish backstop - an insurance policy to guarantee no return to a hard border in Ireland - indefinitely.

Speaking at a late night press conference in Strasbourg following talks with EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, Mrs May said: "The deal that MPs voted on in January was not strong enough in making that clear – and legally binding changes were needed to set that right.

"Today we have agreed them."

The UK and the EU have now signed off on two documents designed to bolster the Brexit withdrawal agreement and accompanying political declaration on Britain's future.

The first is a "joint legally binding instrument" which Mrs May said had "comparable legal weight" to the Brexit agreement itself and would "guarantee that the EU cannot act with the intent of applying the backstop indefinitely".

"If they do, it can be challenged through arbitration and if they are found to be in breach the UK can suspend the backstop," the Prime Minister said.

"The joint instrument also gives a legal commitment that whatever replaces the backstop does not need to replicate it."

The two sides have also published a "joint statement" which commits to replacing the backstop with "alternative arrangements" by the end of December 2020.

"There will be a specific negotiating track on alternative arrangements from the very start of the next phase of negotiations," Mrs May promised.

"It will consider facilitations and technologies – both those currently ready and emerging."

Mrs May also promised a "Unilateral Declaration" from the UK government, saying that ministers believe "there would be nothing to prevent the UK instigating measures that would ultimately dis-apply the backstop" if talks with the EU break down.

'FUNDAMENTAL CHOICE'

Speaking in the House of Commons as Mrs May announced the agreement, her de-facto deputy David Lidington said MPs would face a "fundamental choice" in Tuesday's crunch Commons showdown - "to vote for the improved deal or to plunge this country into a political crisis".

"If we vote for the improved deal we will both end the current uncertainty and deliver Brexit," he said.

"The House was clear on the need for legally binding changes to the backstop. Today, we have secured those changes.

"Now is the time to come together to back this improved Brexit deal and to deliver on the instruction of the British people."

A DUP spokesman said: "We note the Prime Minister’s latest statement and update on our EU exit negotiations.  These publications need careful analysis. We will be taking appropriate advice, scrutinising the text line by line and forming our own judgement.

"We will measure this latest text against the Brady amendment and the commitments made by the Prime Minister on 29 January."

'FIG LEAF'

But Mr Corbyn, the Labour leader, said: "The Prime Minister's negotiations have failed.

"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.

"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.

"That’s why MPs must reject this deal tomorrow."

The SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford meanwhile said: "The supposed concessions are a fig leaf for a problem that the UK created for itself.

"This fig leaf can’t disguise the fact that it was a bad deal in December, a bad deal in January, and is still a bad deal now."