Theresa May asks MPs to vote for a ‘blind’ Brexit – latest news

‘Dressing up political shenanigans as legal certainty’

This comment comes from the Scottish National Party’s Joanna Cherry, who says in parliament that the only reason the deal is being voted on today is so the Conservative Party can get on with choosing its next leader.

Mrs May earlier this week promised to resign if her deal was backed.

Dressing up today’s vote as providing “legal certainty,” Ms Cherry says, is really a ploy to “usher in” a right-wing and unelected Tory leader, such as Brexiter Boris Johnson.

Barnier urges UK MPs to back May’s deal

The European Union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier reminds UK MPs of the importance of today’s Commons vote — suggesting that this is the last chance for Britain to secure an extension to the country’s withdrawal from the EU.

Labour Party: no point voting on half a deal

Now speaking in the parliamentary debate is Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow solicitor general.

He says that the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration have always been considered by Theresa May and the EU as being part of the same package.

Mrs May has said this several times in the past, while the EU has been clear on the same point, Mr Thomas-Symonds adds.

He goes on to say:

This House secured a proper meaningful vote for a purpose – so it could make an informed judgement on future of this country.

The point was not to know only the terms of withdrawal but what the future relationship will look like.

To consider those two thing together is vital.

Cox: backing the prime minister brings certainty

In the Commons, attorney general Geoffrey Cox is arguing that backing Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement today does bring certainty to the public, and that an extension until May 22 will allow the Commons enough time to deal with the second half of the Brexit deal, which is the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement.

The Attorney General says:

“I urge all members of this House to embrace this opportunity now when this withdrawal agreement in its substance is in no way objectionable to any members of this House willing to move forward with it”

He says there is no disadvantage to voting against it.

Boris maintains he is still backing May’s deal

Boris Johnson has reiterated that he will back Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement in Friday’s Commons vote, following the arch-Brexiter’s surprising about turn on this issue earlier this week.

He writes on Twitter: “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.”

Chris Bryant: today’s vote risks more uncertainty.

In parliament, the Labour MP has said that a vote for Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement today will not provide the public or businesses with any certainty over Brexit.

He argues:

If today’s motion is carried there will be no certainty. The government will not be able to ratify the treaty. There will still have to be the proper motion brought forward to this house. There will still have to be a bill that will be contentiously debated. Today throws more uncertainly into the process.

Grieve: May 22 extension is merely technical

Conservative MP Dominic Grieve, who is one of Mr Cox’s predecessors as Attorney General, points out in the Commons debate that an extension beyond May 22 would not be granted by Europe unless parliament has agreed the political declaration element of Mrs May’s deal as well as the withdrawal agreement that is being voted on today.

Mr Grieve says it may be better to ask the EU for more time now.

Met police plan for Brexit protests

London’s Metropolitan Police Service is aware of a number of demonstrations and protests planned for Friday 29 March, reports the FT’s Security and Defence Editor, David Bond. They are reassuring the public that appropriate policing plans are in place.

The debate begins

Attorney general Geoffrey Cox stands to open the debate. He reminds the House that “it was today…which this House voted some years ago..should have been the day on which we left the European Union.”

He then tells the House this is the “last opportunity” to take advantage of the “legal right” to ask for an extension to the Brexit date.

He is basically leaning on the argument that if MPs do not back Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement Brexit cannot be extended until May 22, but will happen on April 12.

Mr Cox says:

The minimum necessary in order to secure this right that is ours is a matter of law is that the withdrawal agreement is approved.”

All negotiated exits that any member of this House conjecture or dream of will require this withdrawal agreement.”

The House…can either approve this withdrawal agreement…or decline to do so and know in doing so that by next week there will be no right to an extension.

He adds that will give the House the opportunity to reconsider the kind of Brexit the country wants.

Prepare for defeat and protests

Our political editor George Parker writes:

Theresa May will on Friday attempt to pass half of her Brexit deal through parliament amid signs that she is heading for another significant defeat and against an expected backdrop of “Brexit Day” protests at Westminster.

Trade secretary Liam Fox claiming that Britain’s “political structures are at risk” if MPs continued to block Brexit, which was scheduled to have taken effect at 11pm tonight.

The prime minister hopes that holding a vote on Brexit Day will put pressure on Tory Eurosceptics and Labour MPs representing Leave areas to support her withdrawal deal, opening the way to Britain leaving the EU on a revised date of May 22.

MPs will be asked to approve the 585-page EU divorce treaty – covering citizen’s rights, the £39bn divorce bill and the Irish border – but not the 26-page non-binding declaration on future relations.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said his party would not support a “blindfold Brexit” where MPs were asked to vote for an exit deal with no idea of what the future would look like.

Watch the homepage for more from George and his colleagues in Westminster throughout what promises to be a dramatic, if indecisive, day.

What’s likely to happen today?

If you’re confused about where the UK currently stands on its withdrawal from the EU (don’t worry, so are we!), our reporters have made a clear summary of the current state-of-play.

Here’s what you need to know:
– Theresa May has decided to hold a vote today on the 585-page Brexit withdrawal treaty, and not the accompanying 26-page political declaration that sets out the future of UK-EU relations. The decision to split votes on the two documents is a way to get around Commons Speaker John Bercow’s recent ruling that the same motion cannot be presented to MPs twice
– Labour has already declared that it will vote against the treaty, calling the decision to split the vote “constitutional trickery”. The DUP will also not back the deal.
– Mrs May’s offer to step down as Tory leader may give her an extra few votes from Euroskeptics within her party, but she will will need a clean sweep from the Tories to get her deal through parliament.

The DUP holds firm

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which has propped up Theresa May’s government since she became prime minister without a majority in the 2017 election, has been widely expected to vote against her Withdrawal Agreement this afternoon, or to abstain from voting.

DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson (pictured, second from right) has just appeared on Talk Radio to state that his party will definitely not be voting in support of Mrs May.

At issue is the so-called Northern Irish backstop – a Brussels requirement that Brexit will not lead to a hard border on the island of Ireland. The DUP believes this will cut Northern Ireland off from a post-EU Great Britiain by forcing it to continue following some EU rules.

“There are better ways of securing the exit from the EU than a deal which ties our hands the way this one does,” Mr Wilson said.

It is not only the DUP that has declined to offer the prime minister its support. The opposition Labour Party and Conservative party Eurosceptics are also not expected to sign off on the withdrawal agreement this afternoon.

The last time Mrs May held a meaningful vote on her Brexit deal she lost by a margin of 149 votes.

Today’s vote could be closer, as Mrs May has promised to resign if her deal is approved.

German businesses prepare to leave Britain

Our main Berlin Tobias Buck is reporting warnings from the British Chambers of Commerce in Germany of “massive harm” to the economic relationship between the two countries in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

A large majority of members of the BCCG, which represents German businesses active in Britain as well as UK companies’ operations in Germany, believe Brexit will have an impact on their business, Tobias writes. He adds:

A survey of 101 of the chamber’s member companies found that 13 per cent were planning to move all or some of their business from the UK to Germany in case of a so-called hard Brexit. A further 10 per cent said they were planning to move business from the UK to another EU member state. Not one respondent was planning to move more business to the UK under a hard Brexit scenario. 

Investors hold tight

On the day the UK could have left the EU, the pound remained above the $1.30 level that analysts say depends on an orderly Brexit, says the FT’s Markets reports Michael Hunter . The UK currency dropped just 0.2 per cent this morning — to $1.3018 — leaving it down 1.5 per cent from the start of the week in reaction to more Brexit confusion.

What does the EU make of all this?

According to this story by our Brussels bureau chief Alex Barker EU leaders are as divided as British lawmakers and the public over what kind of Brexit would be best.

Some in the bloc favour Britain’s early departure, while others hope for a second referendum.

The EU is also “genuinely torn”, Alex writes, on the question of whether to give more time to reverse Brexit. The ideal outcome for European Council president Donald Tusk is to have no Brexit at all. Yet the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has stressed to leaders that he is expecting the UK to leave with no-deal.

What the papers are saying

A rather bleak line up from today’s papers. The front page headline from the Daily Express reads: “Darkest hour for democracy” with the houses of parliament looking almost like they are up in flames. The Guardian decided to focus on the mounting pressure placed on Theresa May to step down as Tory party leader — something she has promised in order to gain more support for her deal from Euroskeptic MPs.

Today’s political agenda

– From 0930, parliament will kick off a five hour debate on the first part of Theresa May’s Brexit deal, which is her withdrawal agreement. This comes after the PM split her Brexit deal – the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration that will govern our future relationship with the EU – in two.

– The deal has been cut in half because the EU only requires the WA to be agreed before it will allow the Brexit date to be extended to May 22. Another reason for today’s format is that Speaker of the House John Bercow would not permit a third vote on Mrs May’s deal if the proposal put to MPs was the same as the deal that they have voted against twice already.


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