London: British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday urged lawmakers to stand firm as Brexit negotiations with the European Union ostensibly enter the final stages with the government’s ambitious plan to secure last-minute legal changes to the withdrawal agreement.
Speaking in the House of Commons, May said she had a “mandate” to seek changes to the backstop as MPs had voted for it. “We now need some time to complete that process”, she added.
With negotiations over possible changes to the Irish border backstop at a key stage, Parliament needed to hold its nerve, the Prime Minister said, adding that a Brexit motion to be debated on Thursday would reiterate those intentions, the Guardian reported.
If no agreement is reached by February 26, then MPs will get more non-binding votes on Brexit options the following day. The final vote on whether the UK leaves the EU on March 29 with a deal would be pushed back into March.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “recklessly running down the clock” in an effort to “blackmail” MPs into backing her deal and asked when MPs would get a final, “meaningful” vote.
“We were promised a meaningful vote on a deal in December, it didn’t happen. We were told to prepare for a further meaningful vote this week after the Prime Minister again promised to secure significant and legally binding changes to the backstop and that hasn’t happened.
“Now the Prime Minister comes before the House with more excuses and more delays,” he said.
May’s comments followed last week talks in Brussels where she sought legally binding changes to the backstop, as outlined in an amendment to a Brexit motion passed in the Commons at the end of last month.
But European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker had maintained the EU’s position that they will not reopen the withdrawal agreement.
Despite that, May signalled no changes to her plans, just an extended deadline. “So our work continues,” she said.
One of the core pillars of the withdrawal bill is the so-called Irish backstop. This is a safeguard to ensure that after Brexit there is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
But the terms and conditions of the measure were rejected by hardline Tory MPs, who felt it could keep the UK tied to the EU indefinitely, and the Democratic Unionist Party, a Northern Irish group propping up May’s government, who said its constituents were opposed to any possibility that the UK territory could be subject to EU regulations while the rest of the UK was not.
May herself backed the amendment to seek “alternative arrangements” to the backstop.
The last-ditch attempt to secure tangible legal changes to the document has raised fears among remain supporters and some opposition parties that a no-deal Brexit could become more likely.