Theresa May will set out her revised Brexit strategy to MPs on Monday but is not expected to produce a “plan B” for leaving the EU.
Her withdrawal agreement was shot down in flames in the Commons last Tuesday in the biggest government defeat in Parliament’s history, but reports suggest the prime minister has no plans to radically alter her deal.
Instead, she is expected to press for changes to the Northern Ireland backstop in an effort to get Conservative doubters onside.She will tell the House of Commons on Monday afternoon how she intends to proceed, amid signs she is still unwilling to give ground on her central demands.
She will also table a “neutral” motion this afternoon to be debated and voted on – along with any amendments tabled by MPs – on January 29.Mrs May is expected to use her statement to explain how she intends to proceed in the run up to the vote next Tuesday, rather than setting out a detailed “plan B”.The Times reported that Mrs May had halted the cross-party approach to leaving the EU and blamed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for its failure, after he refused to meet unless she ruled out a no-deal Brexit.
Government sources said she would be holding further talks with MPs, as well as business leaders and trade unionists, throughout the week in an attempt to find a way forward.
But after she briefed the Cabinet in a conference call on Sunday about her first round of cross-party contacts last week, there was little expectation she was ready to offer concessions that could win over opposition MPs.
Instead, reports suggested she was preparing to press for changes to the Northern Ireland backstop in the hope she can win round Tory Brexiteers and her allies in the DUP who voted against her original deal.
The Daily Telegraph reported she was even considering trying to amend the Good Friday Agreement – although the paper quoted senior sources as saying the idea was a “non-starter”.Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney was adamant over the weekend the backstop – intended to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic – was an essential part of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Under the prime minister’s deal, the backstop would kick in if there is no deal between the UK and the EU after the transition period.It would see Northern Ireland remaining aligned to some of the rules of the EU single market and would involve a temporary single custom territory unless the UK and the EU agree it is no longer necessary.
Many Conservative MPs and the DUP say they cannot support this, so removing or amending the backstop could give Mrs May the backing in the Commons she needs.There were signs some Brexiteers could reluctantly back Mrs May’s deal amid concerns a cross-party grouping of MPs are plotting to impose a “softer” Brexit – or derail it altogether.
Writing in The Mail on Sunday, leading Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “Even Mrs May’s deal would be better than not leaving at all.”