Following another night of crunch Brexit votes in the Commons, MPs approved an amendment aimed at passing Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, so long as the backstop is replaced with “alternative arrangements”.
Following the vote Mrs May said she and other members of the Government would now be speaking with the European Union about “how we address the House’s views” on a Brexit deal.
Despite the EU confirming on several occasions it is not open to renegotiating the already agreed upon Brexit deal, the prime minister believes the result of Tuesday’s vote gives her a strong mandate to push for concessions.
She told MPs there is a “substantial and sustainable” majority in the Commons for leaving the European Union with a deal but admitted renegotiation “will not be easy”.
But she has the backing of a majority of MPs to remove the backstop insurance policy – which avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland if the UK leaves the EU without a deal – from the Withdrawal Agreement.
The mandate was handed to her thanks to an amendment to her deal tabled by Sir Graham Brady that forces the backstop to be replaced with “alternative arrangements”.
He says she’ll be hoping to enamour MPs to her new deal before the next round of Brexit votes on February 14.
Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab told ITV News: “If she can secure these discrete, modest, eminently reasonable changes, a deal can pass Parliament.”
He added: “That’s important for the public to see here but even more importantly a message to our EU negotiators abroad.”
Mr Raab is among MPs backing a new plan that would see the current backstop replaced with what they are calling a “free trade agreement” and new technology to avoid checks on the Irish border.
That plan would see the transition period extended from December 2020 to to 2021 to give time to secure a full trade deal.
The immediate response to Tuesday’s result by the EU was that “The Withdrawal Agreement is not open for renegotiation”, as ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reported.
In a statement, a spokesman said: “We welcome and share the UK Parliament’s ambition to avoid a no-deal scenario.”
ITV News Europe Editor James Mates explains Brussels’ position:
The statement added: “The Withdrawal Agreement is and remains the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.
“The backstop is part of the Withdrawal Agreement, and the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for re-negotiation.
French President Emmanuel Macron added to the EU’s statement during a speech at a summit in Cyprus, saying the current agreement is “one of the best and it is not renegotiable”.
Further diminishing the prime minister’s hope for concessions, the Irish Government said the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for re-negotiation.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also ruled out further negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement.
He tweeted: “We share the efforts of the House of Commons to avoid a hard Brexit. The Withdrawal Agreement has been negotiated for over a year. It’s a good and balanced deal. As a result, there will be no new negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement.
“But talks on future relations or a postponement of withdrawal by a few months are possible if there is a clear strategy on the part of Britain.”
The Labour leader said: “Now that the House has voted emphatically to reject the no deal option the Prime Minister was supporting could I say we are now prepared to meet her to put forward the points of view from the Labour Party of the kind of deal we want from the European Union.