Conservative and Labour MPs on both the Leave and Remain sides of the Brexit divide have told Theresa May she must hold a Commons vote on her deal before Christmas.
Tory MPs are also demanding that the prime minister set out new red lines outlining what she will refuse to accept during her fresh talks with Brussels.
They said she must agree a legally binding guarantee that the backstop — the Brexit deal’s insurance mechanism that was resoundingly rejected by MPs — is temporary and that the UK can decide to leave the arrangement if future trade negotiations with the EU break down.
EU sources told BuzzFeed News the best the prime minister could hope for was a statement that provides reassurances that the EU doesn’t want to use the backstop. MPs immediately said this would be legally meaningless and would fall short of their demands.
Asked repeatedly in parliament this afternoon when the vote would now take place, May declined to give a date, leading to suspicions across the House that she would attempt to put it off until January.
The PM suggested the vote would have to happen before Jan. 21, though the House of Commons Twitter account said she could push it back to as late as March 28, the day before the UK leaves the EU.
The suggestion the vote could be delayed into the next year provoked outcry among both Leave and Remain MPs. They expressed fears that May was attempting to run down the clock so she could present the Commons with a choice between her deal and no deal.
“Colleagues are so angry they’d happily vote on Christmas Day,” one MP said.
Talk in Westminster returned to the possibility of letters of no confidence in the PM being sent. BuzzFeed News is aware of two MPs who have told colleagues they would write letters tonight.
Remain-backing Tory MP Justine Greening asked May for “assurances that the delay she is talking about is for days, not weeks and months”.
Another Remain-backer, Labour’s Yvette Cooper, said delaying the vote beyond Christmas was “completely irresponsible”.
Labour’s Angela Smith said: “Surely the vote must come before this House before the end of next week.”
May would only say that she would come back to the Commons after the new talks with Brussels had concluded.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, chair of the hardline European Research Group of Brexiteer MPs, called on the PM to resign if she could not offer MPs guarantees on the vote. “We cannot continue like this. The prime minister must either govern or quit,” he said.
Steve Baker, the ERG’s deputy, told BuzzFeed News: “Procrastination is an enemy of the national interest.”
A former Cabinet minister said: “All Theresa is doing is giving herself more time. She’s delaying the inevitable. She talks about the importance of trust in politics. I cannot think of anyone in all my time in parliament who has done more to break down trust in politics.”
Another former minister who worked on the Vote Leave campaign said: “The real problem is the PM does not mind the backstop. She has not, and will not, properly fight for it to be removed. As ever, she will merely tinker around the edges. She would have been in a far stronger negotiating position after allowing parliament to vote and show their strength of feeling on this issue. Instead she ducked it, buying herself more time until it’s too late, hoping then to force parliament to back her terrible deal over fear of no deal. It is deceit and it is shameful.”
Current Cabinet ministers are also reportedly in the dark as to when the vote will now take place:
May told the Commons that while she negotiates further with the EU, the government will ramp up plans for a no-deal Brexit.
“As long as we fail to agree a deal, the risk of an accidental no deal increases. So the government will step up its work in preparation for that potential outcome and the Cabinet will hold further discussions on it this week,” she said.
Alex Wickham is a senior reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alex Wickham at email@example.com.
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