/May faces ANOTHER Brexit showdown – Daily Mail

May faces ANOTHER Brexit showdown – Daily Mail

Theresa May is battling to hold her Brexit plan together today as she faces Remainer and Eurosceptic revolts in crunch votes.

The Prime Minister must navigate a minefield in the House of Commons as tensions rise with the clock running down to the UK’s departure.

Mrs May has been pleading for more time to secure concessions from the EU on the Irish border backstop that could win MPs’ support for her deal. 

But she is confronting fresh challenges to her authority tonight as she seeks endorsement from Parliament for her approach, with Tory hardliners accusing her of trying to rule out a no-deal Brexit by stealth and threatening to join forces with Labour to inflict a stinging defeat.

Trade Secretary Liam Fox pleaded with his colleagues not to rebel, warning that the Commons is not an ‘internal debating society’ and it would ‘send the wrong signals’ to Brussels. 

Meanwhile, cross-party Remainers have tabled amendments designed to bind Mrs May’s hands in the negotiations and force a referendum that could cancel the UK’s departure from the EU altogether. 

There were signs this morning that Downing Street is already engaged in damage limitation – with the PM now not expected to speak in the debate. Instead Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay will lead the exchanges. 

Theresa May (pictured at No10 yesterday) must navigate a minefield in the House of Commons as tensions rise with the clock running down to the UK's departure 

Theresa May (pictured at No10 yesterday) must navigate a minefield in the House of Commons as tensions rise with the clock running down to the UK's departure 

Theresa May (pictured at No10 yesterday) must navigate a minefield in the House of Commons as tensions rise with the clock running down to the UK’s departure 

Tory Chief Whip Julian Smith (pictured leaving No10 today) appears to have failed to make peace with Eurosceptic MPs

Tory Chief Whip Julian Smith (pictured leaving No10 today) appears to have failed to make peace with Eurosceptic MPs

Tory Chief Whip Julian Smith (pictured leaving No10 today) appears to have failed to make peace with Eurosceptic MPs

The spat with Brexiteers centres on a Remainer-backed amendment that was passed by MPs two weeks ago rejecting the idea of no deal. 

An amendment put forward by former Cabinet minister Caroline Spelman said the UK should not ‘leave the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship’. 

It was narrowly approved by 318 votes to 310 despite the government whipping against.

Although that vote was not binding on ministers, the government motion due to be considered tonight endorses ‘the approach to leaving the EU expressed by this House on 29 January’. 

MPs passed Spelman amendment that rejected no-deal Brexit 

The latest Tory infighting centres on a Remainer-backed amendment that was passed by MPs two weeks ago rejecting the idea of no deal.

The text put forward by former Cabinet minister Caroline Spelman said the UK should not ‘leave the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship’. 

It was narrowly approved by 318 votes to 310 despite the government whipping against.

Although that vote was not binding on ministers, the government motion due to be considered tonight endorses ‘the approach to leaving the EU expressed by this House on 29 January’. 

That was apparently intended as a reference to the Brady amendment, which called for the Irish backstop to be replaced with ‘alternative arrangements’ and was passed with Mrs May’s blessing.  

However, in evidence of the level of distrust within the Tories it has been interpreted by Brexiteers as Mrs May admitting that no deal is off the agenda – despite her repeatedly insisting it is still a possibility. 

That was apparently intended as a reference to the Brady amendment, which called for the Irish backstop to be replaced with ‘alternative arrangements’ and was passed with Mrs May’s blessing.   

However, it has been interpreted by Brexiteers as Mrs May admitting that no deal is off the agenda – despite her repeatedly insisting it is still a possibility.  

Mark Francois, vice-chairman of the ERG, said: ‘We cannot vote for this as it is currently configured because it rules out No Deal and removes our negotiating leverage in Brussels.’

Another ERG source said MPs had ‘pleaded’ with ministers not to table the motion, adding: ‘They took absolutely no notice. Frankly, we despair.’

One senior MP told MailOnline the spat showed the level of ‘distrust’ between Brexiteers and the leadership.  

Frantic peace talks took place with chief whip Julian Smith yesterday to see if the motion could be reworded, but they appear to have failed.

Defeat on the vote would have no binding effect on Downing Street, but it would kill the political momentum behind Mrs May’s bid to salvage her agreement – and would allow Brussels to continue claiming that the UK Parliament does not know what it wants. 

Dr Fox told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: ‘Our European partners will be watching our debate and listening today to see if they get the impression that if they were to make those concessions Parliament would definitely deliver. 

‘There’s a danger that we send the wrong signals.’ 

But ERG vice-chair Steve Baker shot back: ‘Conservative MPs really ought not to be associated with anything, express or implied, which seems to take no deal off the table.

‘Compromising no deal would be the daftest negotiating strategy and not in the national interest. Today’s storm in a teacup only arises because the Government’s motion is not neutral. This unnecessary carry on is wanted by no one.’ 

Tory former minister Nicky Morgan, who has been urging a Norway-style relationship with the EU, added: ‘If the Government had taken the time to discuss the wording of the motion with MPs on all sides of the Brexit debate they’d have achieved a clear & united signal to the EU as Brady did on 29th January.’ 

EU council president Donald Tusk upped the ante last night by jibing that the bloc had still not heard any ‘realistic’ solutions from the UK. 

‘No news is not always good news,’ he tweeted.  

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte also said Britain was a ‘more diminished country compared to two or three years ago’.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured leaving his London home today) is set to play a pivotal role in another day of Brexit drama at Parliament

Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured leaving his London home today) is set to play a pivotal role in another day of Brexit drama at Parliament

Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured leaving his London home today) is set to play a pivotal role in another day of Brexit drama at Parliament

Mr Corbyn (pictured leaving home today) is tackling conflicting opinions on whether to back a second referendum - with some frontbenchers clear that they would not back one

Mr Corbyn (pictured leaving home today) is tackling conflicting opinions on whether to back a second referendum - with some frontbenchers clear that they would not back one

Mr Corbyn (pictured leaving home today) is tackling conflicting opinions on whether to back a second referendum – with some frontbenchers clear that they would not back one

Campaigners for a second referendum have been divided over whether to force a Commons vote on the issue tonight, with many fearing they would lose badly.

But the Commons business paper today includes an amendment tabled by senior Tory Sarah Wollaston and backed by Lib Dem and Labour MPs.

It would force a series of votes in the House on Brexit options, and then throw the issue over to the wider public in a national vote if politicians could not agree on one course. 

It is not yet clear whether the Labour leadership will support the move – the only way it would have any chance of getting through Parliament. 

Ex-ambassadors warn Theresa May against no-deal Brexit 

A group of retired diplomats have issued a plea to Theresa May to delay Brexit to allow more time to establish a clearer plan or allow for a second referendum. 

In a statement to The Times, more than 40 former ambassadors and Foreign Office mandarins warned that if the Prime Minister secured agreement on her plan, it would not mark the end of uncertainty but the start of years of negotiations. 

They reported ‘exasperation and incomprehension’ among contacts overseas at the UK’s failure to resolve its differences over its future relationship with the EU. 

The statement, organised by supporters of a second referendum, was signed by former ambassadors to the US, France and Russia, as well as one-time head of the Foreign Office Lord Kerr, one of the authors of the Article 50 clause which sets out the process for quitting the EU. 

The row about tonight’s Commons motion vote appeared to catch Downing Street by surprise. It was intended to produce a show of unity for Mrs May to take back to Brussels.

But former Tory Chancellor Kenneth Clarke described the prospect of a Government defeat on what should have been an innocuous vote as ‘a shambles’.

The ERG decision to pick a fight appeared to be motivated by anger over comments from Mrs May’s chief Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins in a Brussels bar, in which he suggested Mrs May would rather order a ‘long’ delay to the UK’s departure than leave without a deal next month.

Labour will back an amendment which would force Mrs May to delay Brexit if she cannot get her deal through Parliament.

Labour’s Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer confirmed the party would support a revised amendment by Yvette Cooper obliging the Prime Minister to ask for an extension to Article 50 beyond March 29.

It was defeated in the Commons last month, after a number of Labour MPs voted against it.

Meanwhile, a group of retired diplomats have issued a plea to Mrs May to delay Brexit to allow more time to establish a clearer plan or allow for a second referendum. 

In a statement to The Times, more than 40 former ambassadors and Foreign Office mandarins warned that if the Prime Minister secured agreement on her plan, it would not mark the end of uncertainty but the start of years of negotiations. 

They reported ‘exasperation and incomprehension’ among contacts overseas at the UK’s failure to resolve its differences over its future relationship with the EU. 

The statement, organised by supporters of a second referendum, was signed by former ambassadors to the US, France and Russia, as well as one-time head of the Foreign Office Lord Kerr, one of the authors of the Article 50 clause which sets out the process for quitting the EU. 

What are the options for reworking the Irish border backstop? 

The EU has flatly dismissed calls for the Withdrawal Agreement to be reopened.

But Theresa May has promised MPs that she will somehow get legally-binding changes that satisfy concerns about the Irish border backstop.

Here are some possible options for how the PM might seek to get through the impasse.

A unilateral exit clause

Prominent backbenchers including former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has pushed Mrs May to seek a unilateral get-out from the backstop.

The current mechanism can only be deactivated through a joint review system – although the EU insists it is technically ‘temporary’.  

But Brussels has insisted that an ‘insurance policy’ that can be ended by one side is not acceptable.

Expiry date

A hard end date to the backstop would allay the fears of most Tory MPs – as long as it is not too far in the future. 

Boris Johnson has suggested he could vote for the deal if she manages to get a time limit, although he also said it should conclude before the next election in May 2022.

The former foreign secretary also unhelpfully insisted a legal ‘codicil’ – an amendment which would run alongside the Withdrawal Agreement – would not be enough to win him over and he wants the whole thing unpicked.

Again, the EU has insisted it will not agree to a backstop that is time limited. 

The ‘Malthouse Compromise’ 

Tory Remainers and Brexiteers have been working on a proposal to replace the backstop with a looser, Canada-style free trade arrangements. The plan would deploy technology in a bid to avoid a hard border.

But Brussels has already dismissed the technogical solutions as ‘magical thinking’, saying the systems needed do not yet exist.  

Guarantees that the backstop will only be ‘temporary’ 

The EU’s top official, Martin Selmayr floated the idea of ‘unzipping’ the Withdrawal Agreement and inserting new guarantees about the ‘temporary’ nature of the backstop during meetings with MPs.

He suggested the text of recent letters from Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker could be cut and pasted in without reopening other terms.

But that would be highly unlikely to satisfy Brexiteers.