Labour says Theresa May 'has given up leading country' after giving Tories free vote on no-deal Brexit

Posted On: 
12th March 2019

Labour has accused Theresa May of "giving up any pretence of leading the country" after she was forced to give Tory MPs a free vote on whether there should be a no-deal Brexit.

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In an unusual move, the Prime Minister told the Commons she would not be whipping her MPs to vote one way or another on the issue.

Speaking after her reworked Brexit deal was rejected by a majority of 149 - the fourth largest government defeat in history - Mrs May confirmed MPs will vote on Wednesday night on whether they want the UK to leave the EU without a deal.

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She said: "This is an issue of grave importance for the future of our country.  Just like the referendum, there are strongly held and equally legitimate views on both sides.

"For that reason, I can confirm that this will be a free vote on this side of the House."

The Prime Minister's hand was forced by the fact that many of her ministers - including several in the Cabinet - would have been left with no choice but to resign had she whipped them to support a particular position.

Mrs May added: "I have personally struggled with this choice as I am sure many other honourable members will. I am passionate about delivering the result of the referendum.

"But I equally passionately believe that the best way to do that is to leave in an orderly way with a deal and I still believe there is a majority in the House for that course of action. And I am conscious also of my duties as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of the potential damage to the Union that leaving without a deal could do when one part of our country is without devolved governance."

Responding to the announcement, a Labour party spokesperson said: "Allowing a free vote on no deal shows Theresa May has given up any pretence of leading the country. Once again, she’s putting her party’s interests ahead of the public interest."

NO-DEAL PLANS

Separately, Mrs May also announced that the Government will be publishing emergency plans for dealing with a no-deal Brexit on Wednesday morning.

They will set out the tariff regime the Government would impose on imports from abroad, as well as what measures it would introduce on the Irish border.

The Prime Minister said the Government would implement a no-deal Brexit if that is what MPs vote for. If they reject that option, another vote will take place on Thursday on whether to request an extension to the Article 50 process, which is due to run out on 29 March.

"If the House votes for an extension, the Government will seek to agree that extension with the EU and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension," she told a packed House of Commons.

"But let me be clear. Voting against leaving without a deal and for an extension does not solve the problems we face. The EU will want to know what use we mean to make of such an extension. This House will have to answer that question. 

"Does it wish to revoke Article 50?  Does it want to hold a second referendum?  Or does it want to leave with a deal but not this deal? These are unenviable choices, but thanks to the decision the House has made this evening they must now be faced."

Downing Street officials later confirmed there were no plans for further negotiations with the EU, while European Council president Donald Tusk said it was now up to MPs to break the deadlock.

He said: "Given the additional assurances provided by the EU in December, January and yesterday, it is difficult to see what more we can do. If there is a solution to the current impasse it can only be found in London."

BUSINESS REACTION

Meanwhile, business leaders reacted with dismay to Mrs May's latest Commons defeat.

Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI's director general, said: Enough is enough. This must be the last day of failed politics. A new approach is needed by all parties. Jobs and livelihoods depend on it.

"Extending Article 50 to close the door on a March no-deal is now urgent. It should be as short as realistically possible and backed by a clear plan.

"Conservatives must consign their red lines to history, while Labour must come to the table with a genuine commitment to solutions. It’s time for Parliament to stop this circus."