Andrea Leadsom hints 'meaningful vote' on Brexit deal could come days before departure
MPs might not get a final vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal until days before Britain is set to quit the EU, a top Cabinet minister hinted today.
Andrea Leadsom said she could not “predict the future” when she was asked if the crucial Commons showdown could be held after the 21 March EU summit.
And the pro-Brexit minister argued delaying the crunch vote until so close to the departure date of 29 March did not amount to “running down the clock”.
The Prime Minister was forced back to the negotiating table last month after her deal was comprehensively rejected in the Commons.
MPs from across the House have demanded she fix the so-called ‘backstop’ plan - an insurance policy to ensure the Northern Ireland border remains open in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
But amid a deadlock in Brussels on the issue, speculation has mounted that talks could stretch well into March and leave MPs little time to have their say on a tweaked deal.
Ms Leadsom dropped a big hint that talks could go down to the wire today when she was asked whether the so-called ‘meaningful vote’ could happen after the March pow wow of EU leaders.
“The Prime Minister is seeking to bring back the meaningful vote just as soon as possible,” she told the Today programme on Radio 4.
“So it is a negotiation. It’s not possible to predict the future but the meaningful vote will come back to parliament as soon as the issue around the backstop has been sorted out.”
Pressed on whether such a late vote would amount to running down the clock, she added: “It’s not running down the clock.”
NO BACKSTOP 'PURIST'
Critics of the backstop plan - which would see the UK kept in a customs union with the bloc - argue it will leave Britain tied to EU rules indefinitely and could lead to the break up of the UK.
Ms Leadsom suggested the Withdrawal Agreement would not have to be re-opened to make changes to the backstop, as some pro-Brexit MPs have demanded.
She said in a thinly-veiled swipe at Tory hardliners: "The point is to ensure that the UK cannot be held in a backstop permanently. How it’s achieved is not something to be purist about."
She also refused to rule out quitting her job if Mrs May backed the Labour plan of signing up to a permanent customs union with the EU.