Brexit: Theresa May suffers fresh Commons defeat
Prime Minister Theresa May has suffered another Commons defeat after MPs voted down her approach to Brexit talks.
MPs voted by 303 to 258 – a majority of 45 – against a motion endorsing the government’s negotiating strategy.
The defeat has no legal force and Downing Street said it would not change the PM’s approach to talks with the EU.
But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urged Mrs May to “admit her Brexit strategy has failed” and to come forward with a plan Parliament would support.
The defeat came after the pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs announced it had taken a “collective decision” to abstain, because backing the motion would have amounted to an endorsement of efforts to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
Mrs May has consistently rejected calls to rule out a no-deal Brexit, but Tory Brexiteer rebels believed the wording of what was meant to be a neutral government motion opened the door to that.
The motion reiterated support for the approach to Brexit backed by MPs in votes last month, one of which ruled out a no-deal Brexit.
The voting figures showed it was not just hardline Brexiteers that failed to support the government – a number of Tory Remainers also declined to vote, as more than a fifth of the party in the Commons failed to back the government.
Five Conservative MPs – Brexiteers Peter Bone, Sir Christopher Chope, Philip Hollobone, and Anne Marie Morris, and the pro-Remain Sarah Wollaston – even voted with Labour against the motion.
Downing Street blamed Mr Corbyn for the defeat, saying he had “yet again put partisan considerations ahead of the national interest” by voting against the government’s motion.
A No 10 spokesman said the PM would continue to seek legally-binding changes to the controversial Irish backstop, as MPs had instructed her to do in a Commons vote on 29 January.
“While we didn’t secure the support of the Commons this evening, the prime minister continues to believe, and the debate itself indicated, that far from objecting to securing changes to the backstop that will allow us to leave with a deal, there was a concern from some Conservative colleagues about taking no deal off the table at this stage,” he added.
Plasters lose their stick, revealing the hurt underneath. And the fragile patch that was covering the Tory truce has been well and truly torn.
Just when Theresa May wanted to show the European Union that she could hold her party together to win, she lost.
And at home the prime minister has been shown in no uncertain terms that she simply can’t count on the factions in her party to come through for her.
Downing Street had earlier warned that defeat could damage the prime minister’s negotiating position, as she seeks to make changes to the controversial backstop “insurance policy” in her deal to avoid customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
ERG deputy chairman Steve Baker told BBC News the group still supported efforts to get “alternative arrangements” to replace the controversial Irish backstop plan, describing Mrs May’s defeat as a “storm in a teacup”.
But business minister Richard Harrington said ERG members should join former UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party, telling them: “In my view you’re not Conservatives.”
In an interview with The House magazine, he urged ministers opposed to a hard Brexit not to “give in” to the ERG by resigning.
He also said he was “disappointed” that Mrs May had not made a statement to the Commons today, and given MPs an outline of a revised deal to vote on.
“We’re now told it will be in another two weeks’ time so, being very conscious of the damage that not ruling out a hard Brexit is having on business and industry, I’m concerned that it’s going to drag on.
“What concerns me most is there is now talk that there won’t be a final decision until the next EU Council on 21 March which, as far as business is concerned, is completely unacceptable.”