May sets out plan for January showdown on her Brexit deal

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Theresa May has set the timetable for a decisive showdown with MPs over her Brexit deal in January.

The Prime Minister said the Commons would have the chance to debate her Withdrawal Agreement in the week MPs return to Westminster after Christmas on January 7.

The crucial vote – which was postponed earlier this month to avoid a heavy defeat – will take place the following week.

Mrs May told the Commons: “It is now only just over 14 weeks until the UK leaves the EU and I know many members of this House are concerned that we need to take a decision soon.”

She added: “I can confirm today that we intend to return to the meaningful vote debate in the week commencing January 7 and hold the vote the following week.”

The Labour leader said the vote should have been held before Christmas, accusing Mrs May of “dither and delay”.

He told her: “A responsible prime minister would, for the good of this country, put this deal before the House this week so we could move on from this Government’s disastrous negotiation”

The Opposition claimed that Mr Corbyn’s pressure had forced the Prime Minister to bring her deal back to Parliament, an assertion Downing Street said was “incorrect”.

The Prime Minister’s statement came as:

– Cabinet ministers openly speculated about how to proceed if the deal is rejected

– Brussels appeared to dispute claims that negotiations were continuing over the terms of the deal

– Planning for a no-deal Brexit was being stepped up, with the Cabinet discussing “the next phase in ensuring we are ready for that scenario” on Tuesday.

The Prime Minister warned MPs that rejecting her deal would not result in an alternative “miraculously” appearing.

“Avoiding ‘no deal’ is only possible if we can reach an agreement or if we abandon Brexit entirely,” she said.

And in a warning to campaigners calling for a second referendum, she said it would “break faith with the British people” and do “irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics”.

But one of Mrs May’s closest allies said “all options” should remain open if the deal is rejected.

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said it would be important to find out the “will of Parliament” on how to proceed, while Business Secretary Greg Clark also appeared to back an indicative vote to find out what – if anything – MPs could support.

Mr Clark told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that if the deal was rejected “we can’t just have continuing uncertainty, and I think Parliament should be invited to say what it would agree with”.

Ms Rudd told reporters that she hoped the Prime Minister’s deal would be supported in the vote expected in January.

But she added: “After that we need to find out where the will of Parliament is, where the majority of MPs will vote in Parliament and nothing should be off the table, we should consider all options.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

There was confusion over efforts to secure further guarantees over the controversial Northern Irish backstop measure designed to prevent a hard border with Ireland.

Downing Street said talks by officials were continuing “at all levels” to seek further clarification and assurances on the terms of the existing deal – and particularly the nature of the proposed backstop – as agreed at the European Council last week.

But European Commission chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas said no further meetings between the EU and the UK to discuss the Brexit deal are expected.

He told a press conference in Brussels: “The deal that is on the table is the best and the only deal possible – we will not reopen it, it will not be renegotiated.”

Meanwhile, the BBC reported that Mrs May had turned to former prime minister David Cameron for advice on how to give MPs a “greater role” if her Brexit deal is rejected.

But Mrs May told the Commons: “He is not giving advice, the last time I spoke to him was when we actually agreed the Withdrawal Agreement, when I spoke to two former prime ministers as a matter of courtesy to indicate to them what had been negotiated with the European Union.”

The Prime Minister received support from an unexpected quarter as Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, ringleader of attempts to oust her last week, congratulated her “on winning the confidence of the Conservatives in this House last week”, adding that he wanted to “assure her that she therefore commands my confidence too”.

He had previously said that despite seeing off the motion of no confidence by 200 votes to 117 she should resign “as soon as the Queen has a moment in her diary to see her”.

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