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MPs to vote on May’s Brexit deal

Theresa May speaking in Strasbourg on Monday night Theresa May speaking in Strasbourg on Monday night
By Conor McParland

MPs will vote later today on the latest Brexit deal by Theresa May after the Prime Minister claimed she secured “legally-binding” changes.

May held last-minute talks in Brussels on Monday night with the EU and now insists she has delivered what Parliament asked her to do – secure nailed-on assurances including a commitment to replace the controversial Irish backstop with an alternative by December 2020.

Speaking in Strasbourg last night, Mrs May said: “The deal honours the referendum result and is good for both the UK and the EU.

“Having an insurance policy to ensure there will never be a hard border in Northern Ireland is absolutely right. It honours the UK’s solemn commitments in the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.

“If we ever have to use that insurance policy, it cannot become a permanent arrangement and it is not a template for our future relationship.

“The deal that MPs voted on in January was not strong enough in making that clear and legally-binding changes were needed to set that right. We have now agreed them.
“The EU cannot act with the intent of applying the backstop indefinitely which can be challenged.

“Now it is time to come together and back this improved deal.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the new agreements were an “unambiguous statement” of both sides’ “good faith and intentions” but also made it clear they did not undermine the principle of the backstop.

“We have insisted that the Withdrawal Agreement could not be rewritten, and that the backstop arrangement, while intended to be temporary, must continue to apply unless and until it is replaced by future arrangements that can achieve the same objective, namely no hard border,” he said.

“However, we have also said that we were prepared to offer guarantees and further reassurances and to the UK of our good faith and intentions – indeed we have offered such reassurances on many occasions.
“The Instrument agreed yesterday puts those assurances on a legal footing and represents an unambiguous statement by both parties of what has been agreed.

“It does not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, or undermine the backstop or its application.

“It says that we will work together, in good faith, in pursuit of a future relationship that ensures that the objectives of the Protocol, particularly the need to avoid a hard border, are met.

“The documents agreed yesterday reiterate our wish to establish a future partnership with the UK that is as close as possible, and marks our commitment to ensure that negotiations on that future relationship can begin as soon as the UK leaves.

“The instrument agreed sets out how we will go about this important work.

“In many ways, Brexit has been a dark cloud over us for many months, and particularly the threat of no deal. A positive vote tonight can remove that cloud and restore confidence and optimism in Britain, Ireland and across the European Union.

“We now need to see the Withdrawal Agreement ratified by Westminster and by the European Parliament without further delay, so that we can get on with the important work of building the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK, and between the UK and Ireland, post Brexit.

“I know feel that for the remains of the day, we need to give MPs in Westminster the time and space to consider what’s now on the table.”

All eyes now turn to UK Attorney General Geoffrey Cox who will later today give his considered assessment of whether what Mrs May has secured is legally binding. His response is expected to be key in deciding what way Brexit hardliners – notably Jacob Rees-Mogg’s ERG and the DUP – will vote this evening.

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