Theresa May set for showdown with MPs over Brexit deadlock

Theresa May is set to address MPs today.
Theresa May is set to address MPs today.
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Theresa May is set to face a fiery showdown with MPs as she today outlines how she intends to break the country’s Brexit deadlock.

The Prime Minister will specify her proposals to move talks forward over the UK’s withdrawal from the EU following the tumultuous events of last week which saw her leadership called into question.

She spent the weekend liaising with her Cabinet over Brexit Plan B after her deal was rejected by MPs in the worst government defeat in Britain’s democratic history.

The Prime Minister, who survived a vote of no confidence following the crushing defeat, will also table a “neutral” motion – which is expected to attract a flurry of amendments from MPs – to be debated and put to a vote on January 29.

It comes as leading Cabinet Brexiteer Liam Fox lashed out at moves by MPs to rewrite the Commons rulebook in an attempt to “hijack” Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

The International Trade Secretary angrily accused backbenchers of trying to “steal” Brexit from the British people who voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.

At least two cross-party groups of MPs are planning to table amendments to enable backbenchers to take control of the business of the House to delay or frustrate Theresa May’s Brexit plans.

One group including senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who represents Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, and Tory former Minister Nick Boles is backing a Bill to suspend the Article 50 withdrawal process if there is no new deal with Brussels by the end of February.

A second, led by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, has tabled an amendment to enable backbenchers to choose to debate and vote on Brexit issues, one day a week – breaking with the convention that the Government controls the parliamentary timetable.

Dr Fox warned that the political consequences if Parliament went back on the referendum result would be “astronomical”.

“You’ve got a Leave population and a Remain Parliament,” he told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show.

“Parliament has not got the right to hijack the Brexit process because Parliament said to the people of this country, ‘We make a contract with you, you will make the decision and we will honour it’. What we are now getting is some of those who always absolutely opposed the result of the referendum trying to hijack Brexit and in fact steal the result from the people.”

Downing Street described the moves as “extremely concerning” and said they underlined the need for MPs who supported Brexit to vote for it in the House.

However Labour MP Hilary Benn, who chairs the Commons Brexit committee and is backing the Cooper-Boles plan, rejected claims that MPs were behaving unconstitutionally. “MPs doing their job are not plotters, they are trying to sort out the mess the Prime Minister has created,” he told The Andrew Marr Show.

The Leeds Central MP added: “We are facing a national crisis and there are many MPs in the House of Commons whose first priority is to ensure that we do not leave without a deal.”

Dr Fox said one way to break the deadlock could be an agreement with the Irish Government on an “alternative mechanism” to the backstop, intended to ensure there is no hard border with Northern Ireland, which is a key stumbling block.

Labour former Minister and Don Valley MP Caroline Flint has called on the Government to take “Remain off the table”.

Ms Flint, appearing on Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics, said: “We had a referendum. People had their say. They wanted to get a deal. And actually, we should be saying, get no-deal off the table but get Remain off the table as well. So we can focus our minds on what needs to be done.”

She added: “And there’s too much shenanigans, too much process, not enough substance going on amongst politicians.”

The MP, who was elected in 1997, said the “antics” on both sides of the Brexit debate were driving “extreme views”.