MPs are set to vote later today (29) on prime minister Theresa May’s Brexit divorce deal, in an attempt to break the impasse over the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union
The Commons has twice rejected the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement, both times by large margins, but has been unable to agree any alternative – and time is running out.
In a last-ditch bid to garner the support of discontented Conservative colleagues, the prime minister dramatically promised on Wednesday (27) to resign if the deal passed.
Today’s pivotal vote takes place on the day Britain was supposed to leave the European Union until the prime minister asked the bloc’s leaders last week for a little more time.
“We have the opportunity here to embrace certainty,” Attorney General Geoffrey Cox told parliament at the start of the debate.
“We are at an important crossroads for the purposes of this nation’s future and its history,” he said.
To win the vote, the prime minister must bring on side dozens of Brexit-supporting lawmakers in her own party and more than 20 Labour Party lawmakers.
However, more than a dozen Conservative MPs still publicly oppose her deal.
The prime minister’s Northern Irish allies, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), also continue to insist that its arrangements for the Irish border are unacceptable.
If the deal falls again, the prime minister must set out a new plan to EU leaders – with the options including a potentially catastrophic “no deal” Brexit as early as April 12, or a lengthy delay.
“It is in fact really the last chance we have to vote for Brexit as we understood it,” said Liam Fox, the prime minister’s Brexit-supporting trade minister.
Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said: “It is very painful to vote for this deal. But I hope we can now work together to remedy its defects, avoid the backstop trap and strive to deliver the Brexit people voted for.”
The prime minister admits her agreement, reached last November during more than 18 months of negotiations, is a compromise but insists it is the best available.
It covers citizens’ rights, Britain’s financial settlement, plans for the Irish border and for a transition period to ease the split until new trade terms are agreed.
Without the support of her own side, the prime minister would have to rely on opposition Labour votes to get her deal through, but leader Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to vote against her.
The government has decided to put only one part of the Brexit package to MPs today, separating out the withdrawal terms from an accompanying political declaration on future ties.
Another vote on the political declaration, which is not legally binding, will be required for Brexit to happen.
Cox said that would happen “within the next few days”.
He also told MPs that the EU was “open to negotiating a change” to the text of the political declaration, which sketches out an intention to retain close economic ties between Britain and the EU.
But Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said separating the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration was “not part of a plan, it’s a desperate measure,” that the party would not vote for.
“Take the political declaration off and it’s completely blind, you’ve no idea what you’re really voting for.”
Voting is due at 2.30 pm.