Brexit latest: House of Lords votes against imposing hard border on island of Ireland

Pro-Brexit supporters in London today.

Update: Peers have inflicted a heavy defeat on the British Government’s plans for post-Brexit trade deals in backing moves to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland in the future.

The House of Lords supported by 285 votes to 184, majority 101, a cross-party proposal aimed at ensuring the continuation of frictionless trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and blocking the imposition of customs arrangements or other checks and controls after Brexit day.

Sir Keir said Labour would act tonight and oppose no deal with support of amendment A, adding: “We believe that is the cleanest and clearest way for the House to express its opposition to no-deal.”

He said Labour supported a close economic relationship with the EU and also supported a public vote.

He said: “If she (Mrs May) presses on with her own deal I think we still have to go on and look at other options and get a common purpose, but if the Prime Minister forces us down that road, she’s forcing us down the road constitutionally where the majority will be forcing a view on the executive and there are constitutional implications for that.”

He said: “It is extraordinary that the Government have acceded to a free vote on the matter of such importance today, not to have a position on whether this country should exit the EU without a deal. It is the latest evidence the Government is not governing and cannot act in the national interest.”

Tory Father of the House Ken Clarke said: “Effectively we’re back to square one, there is absolutely no consensus within the Government, within the Opposition party, within this Parliament and amongst the public exactly what leave means.”

The Government’s Withdrawal Agreement he said was “dead in the water”, adding any extension was dependent on 27 other Governments “all of whom are fed up to the back teeth with the state of British politics”.

Update: Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) said he wanted to see the “mantra of my deal or no deal… dead and buried” in the vote tonight.

He said: “On this side of the House we have never accepted there should be a binary choice between the Prime Minister’s deal or no deal.

“Between very bad or even worse is not a meaningful choice and it would be a very sorry end to the negotiations.

“Yesterday the House overwhelmingly voted to reject the first of those options, the Prime Minister’s deal.

“Today we have the chance to reject the second and we should do so with as big a majority as possible.

“The mantra of ‘my deal or no deal’ needs to be dead and buried tonight.”

Conservative MP and ERG member Mark Francois said: “The Government was very clearly defeated last night. The House of Commons has said twice now emphatically it does not want the Withdrawal Agreement.

“When you read it, it means we don’t actually leave the EU. That’s always been the fundamental problem with it. It’s billed as a way out – it’s not.

“MPs, no matter what people think of them, can read. They’ve read it, understand it and they ain’t voting for it.

“I suspect May will try to go back to Brussels to get more successions and we’ll have a third meaningful vote on the week commencing March 25th.

“My gut-guess is that in a very British way we’ll muddle through, we’ll drink a lot of tea, and leave the EU and be a free country again because that’s what 17.4 million people voted for.

“My message to Theresa May is to listen to her Party – all of it. Just about everyone voted for the Brady Amendment and the Malthouse one has been signed by Brexiteers and Remainers alike.”

Labour’s Sir Keir was challenged on whether his party was still pursuing a second referendum, as he told MPs the Government’s Brexit deal has reached a “hopeless end”.

He said: “In those circumstances, both of the things we were ruling out in our manifesto – the red lines of the Prime Minister and no-deal – are the only things on the table, and that is why we support a public vote to protect against those outcomes.

“I am proud that we’re doing that at this stage of the exercise and it’s obvious why we need to do so.”

Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer

Independent MP Anna Soubry, a former Tory minister, asked Sir Keir if Labour would support a motion or amendment for a “people’s vote”.

Sir Keir replied: “The Leader of the Opposition two weeks ago Monday made it clear that we would support an amendment to that end or put one forward for ourselves.

“Timing depends on discussions across the House and with others, but that’s the clear position that we put down.”

Earlier: British Minister claims no-deal Brexit could lead to direct rule in the North

Mr Gove later claimed direct rule in Northern Ireland could be a consequence of a no-deal Brexit on March 29.

Independent unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon (North Down) said MPs, including the DUP, must give “due weight to the serious warning” issued by the head of the Northern Ireland civil service David Sterling about the “grave consequences” if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Gove said she was “absolutely 100% totally right”, adding legislation issued by the Westminster Government to empower Northern Ireland’s civil servants to take decisions is “sustainable at the moment” and it is hoped the executive can be restored.

Mr Gove went on: “But it is also clear that the current situation with no executive would be very, very difficult to sustain in the uniquely challenging context of a no-deal exit.

“Now we, in the circumstances that the House has voted for no-deal, would have to start formal engagement with the Irish government about further arrangements for providing strengthened decision-making in the event of that outcome, and that would include the very real possibility of imposing a form of direct rule.

“Now that is a grave step and experience shows us it’s very hard to return from that step, and it’d be especially difficult in the context of no-deal.”

Responding to a question from Tory Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield), Mr Gove said: “Tomorrow the House will have an opportunity, if the motion passes tonight, to decide how to seek an extension.

Obviously, an extension is not something that we can insist upon and automatically see delivered, it is in the gift of the EU and it requires the assent of all 27 other EU members.”

Outlining the prospect of a no-deal exit, he said: “If we do choose to leave without a deal on March 29th there’ll be economic, political and constitutional challenges that this country will face. Now we are a great country, we would get through it, we would in due course ensure that this country was more prosperous, freer and successful and, of course, Government has been working hard in order to ensure that we can be prepared for any eventuality and we can mitigate the risks of leaving without a deal.”

Update: Michael Gove stood in for the British Prime Minister at the opening of the no-deal Brexit debate, and began by praising her saying: “She may temporarily have lost her voice, but what she has not lost, and will never lose, is her focus in the national interest, and a full-hearted desire to do what is right for our country.”

The Environment Secretary said since Mrs May lost the first meaningful vote on her Withdrawal Agreement in January she has spent “more than 19 hours at the despatch box”, and: “Has shown fortitude, tenacity, thoughtfulness, diligence – and above all an unselfish and unstinting patriotism.”

Mr Gove said it was only appropriate that “on all sides of the House” MPs recognise the way in which the Prime Minister “always, always, always puts country first”.

Michael Gove.
Michael Gove.

Tory Father of the House Ken Clarke called on Mr Gove to confirm it was the Government’s position “that we are ruling out leaving on March 29th with absolutely no arrangements at all, we are ruling out the complete collapse of all our legal and trading arrangements with the Continent”.

Mr Gove replied: “His point is correct, the motion commits the Government not to leave on March 29th without a Withdrawal Agreement, I hope that is clear and unambiguous, but the motion also makes clear that the default position in law is that we do leave the EU unless we can secure assent to a withdrawal agreement.”

Mr Gove said it was “so disappointing” the Government did not secure a mandate last night.

Earlier: John Bercow reveals two amendments UK MPs can vote on in no-deal Brexit motion

Commons Speaker John Bercow has told MPs he has selected two amendments to Theresa May’s no-deal Brexit motion.

They are:

– Amendment A, tabled by Conservative former minister Dame Caroline Spelman and which rejects a no-deal Brexit at any time and under any circumstances.

– Amendment F, in the name of Conservative former minister Damian Green and which calls for a delay to Brexit day from March 29 to May 22 to give time for preparations to leave without a deal.

It says the British Government should then offer a “standstill” agreement with the EU and its member states, lasting up to the end of 2021 at the latest, during which the UK would pay into EU budgets and observe legal obligations while a permanent relationship is negotiated.

A cross-party amendment to take no deal off the table may not be put to the vote, Independent MP Anna Soubry has suggested.

Ms Soubry (Broxtowe) said Dame Caroline Spelman, a former Conservative Party chairwoman, was unlikely to put her motion “if the Government whips against”.

Pointing out how the Prime Minister’s motion left no deal on the table as the default, Ms Soubry said: “Is it the case the Government is giving a free vote on the (Malthouse) amendment and yet it is whipping against (Spelman)?

“It’s a shameful carry on when a former chairman of the Conservative Party is whipped against to the extent she will not push that amendment to the vote.

“This House will be denied the chance to take no-deal off the table – that’s the truth of it isn’t it?”

Dodging the question, Mr Gove replied: “She is a distinguished criminal barrister and now I know what it’s like to be cross-examined by her but I also know why barristers are paid by the hour.”

The Commons Brexit Committee called for Article 50 to be extended, with “indicative votes” for MPs to signal their preferred way forward.

The committee’s report – which was opposed by Brexiteer members Jacob Rees-Mogg, Sammy Wilson, Andrea Jenkyns and Craig Mackinlay – also suggested that the UK should “be prepared for the possibility” of taking part in May’s European elections.

Committee chairman Hilary Benn said: “After another historic defeat for the Prime Minister, the UK will now have to apply for an extension to Article 50. The extension will need to be of sufficient length to allow Parliament to reach agreement on a proposal that it is prepared to support.

“The clock has now been run down to the point where there is no alternative left given that leaving with no deal cannot be the policy of any responsible Government.

“Parliament must now be given the chance to hold a series of indicative votes as quickly as possible or else we will not find out what there might be support for as an alternative to the Prime Minister’s deal which has now been rejected twice by large majorities.”

Update: Downing Street made clear that Conservative MPs are being given a free vote on the so-called Malthouse amendment, which aims for the UK to leave the EU without a deal, but also secure a transition period until the end of December 2021.

Earlier: Delay in negotiations leading to 'Brexit bankruptcies', says Labour MP

Because of a sore throat which is causing her problems with her voice, Theresa May will not open the Commons debate on a no-deal Brexit as planned, Downing Street has said.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove will open the debate, which will be closed by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox.

Responded to the British Chancellor's Spring Statement, Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: “We have just witnessed a display by the Chancellor of this Government’s toxic mix of callous complacency over austerity and its grotesque incompetence over the handling of Brexit.

“Whilst teachers are having to pay for the materials their pupils need, working parents are struggling to manage as school close early, their children are sent home, 5,000 of our fellow citizens will be sleeping in the cold and wet on the streets tonight.

“Young people are being stabbed to death in rising numbers. And the Chancellor turns up today with no real end or reversal of austerity and to threaten us because this is what he means that austerity can only end if we accept this Government’s bad deal over Brexit.”

Mr McDonnell said there was no “Brexit dividend”, only Brexit bankruptcies.

He said: “Even today the Chancellor has tried to use the bribe of a ‘double deal dividend’ or threats of postponing the spending review to cajole MPs into voting for the Government’s deal.

“What we're seeing is not a ‘double dividend’ – we’re seeing Brexit bankruptcies as a result of the delay in the negotiations.

“Publication of the tariffs this morning is clearly part of this threatening strategy.”

Decrying the “calamitous strategy”, Mr McDonnell said it was “forcing people into intransigent corners rather than bringing them together” and urged the Chancellor to reject no deal.

He said: “What we need now is for the Chancellor today to stand with us to vote to take no deal off the table and to stand in Cabinet against those that are trying to force us into a no-deal situation.”

SNP deputy leader and economy spokeswoman Kirsty Blackman said there was no certainty about the future health of the economy, adding: “What is clear however is that Brexit is bad for the economy, so far the picture is bleak.”

No deal she added would have a “severe impact” on the economy as she called on the Chancellor to commit to voting against no deal tonight.

The Spring Statement she said had been a “damp squib”and in the current circumstances Mr Hammond should have brought forward an emergency Budget.

Update: Former Labour and current Independent group MP Angela Smith told the Press Association: “There is a dawning realisation that the real failures of Parliament are down to the real failures of leadership.

“We have Theresa May trying to keep her party together and is stitching Brexit around that, whilst Jeremy Corbyn is trying to push for chaos and a general election. Both are failing to put the country first and get this Brexit deal over and done with.

“I think today will take no deal off the table. I hope the amendment that would make that decision permanently binding goes through tonight too, because if it does, it will close off the most devastating decision of all for the economy.

“Then tomorrow, I think the extension of article 50 needs to be tied to something meaningful, by that I mean going back to the people for ratification. This will resolve things very quickly, and pull a significant number of MPs behind Theresa May, even those on the opposition side of the house.

“My party wants to see a people’s vote on Theresa May’s deal, whatever the deal is. We should not crash out of the EU without the people having a final say.”

Update: British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will be voting for her motion on a no-deal Brexit.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn asked how she would vote tonight.

She said: “I will be voting for the motion in my name.”

Mr Corbyn said: “The Prime Minister’s deal has failed, she no longer has the ability to lead, this is a rudderless government in the face of a huge national crisis.”

He added the Commons needs to listen to the country, including workers and EU nationals who are fearful for their futures, saying of Mrs May: “She needs now to show leadership.

“So can the Prime Minister tell us exactly what her plan is now?”

Mrs May reiterated votes were planned on a no-deal Brexit and extending Article 50, adding: “There will be hard choices for this House but this House will need to determine what its view is on the way forward.”

She said the Government will continue to work to leave the EU with a “good deal”, adding on Mr Corbyn: “He doesn’t agree with Government policy, he doesn’t even agree with Labour Party policy.

“He has nothing to offer this country.”

Mrs May earlier defended her deal in the face of a hostile question from Tory backbencher John Baron.

Mr Baron (Basildon and Billericay) pushed Theresa May to back a no-deal Brexit, saying “no deal is better than a bad deal”.

Mrs May agreed no deal was better than a bad deal but insisted her deal was a good deal.

She said: “I want to leave the EU with a good deal – I believe we have a good deal.”

Earlier: Former Brexit minister confident UK will pass amendment which includes 'three safety nets'

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford tweeted an image of an amendment tabled by the party, which adds the option to revoke Article 50.

“Delighted to say ⁦@theSNP⁩ will be seeking to take no deal off the table in all circumstances and for the house to recognise we have the option to revoke article 50. We have a duty to protect Scottish jobs first and foremost.”

Conservative MP Nick Boles said that Mrs May’s Brexit deal had run into difficulties because the Prime Minister is a “control freak”.

Mr Boles told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Emma Barnett: “I think she is a control freak, bluntly. She doesn’t like to allow anybody else to have an input into the formation of the plan.

“She has her very clear red lines. She set them out ages ago. They’re much too constraining.

“We rushed into them without thinking about them. And she never actually took into account what were the views of the Parliament that she was going to have to get this deal through.

“She hasn’t allowed Parliament to explore what alternative compromises we might support. People keep saying there is no majority for any compromise. We don’t know that. We’ve never been allowed to debate and vote on anything other than her deal.”

Update: Tory former Brexit minister Steve Baker, who has tabled a “Malthouse Compromise” amendment to today’s motion with Tory colleagues which would seek extension of Article 50 until May 22, told the Press Association: “Today what I hope will happen is Members of Parliament rally behind this compromise we’ve tabled. Damian Green and Nicky Morgan have both put their names to it as well as myself and Jacob Rees-Mogg from the ‘Leave’ side. Today a Labour colleague has agreed to put her name to it as well.

“We think there is a majority for our compromise we’ve tabled – it seeks to throw three safety nets around leaving without a withdrawal agreement.

“I don’t really accept that there’s a cliff edge. I’ve had embassies tell us that there’s no such thing as no deal. The reason they say that is that there’s a web of contingency arrangements put in place to give us a standstill in arrangements till Christmas.

A pro-Brexit supporter takes part in a protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London today.
A pro-Brexit supporter takes part in a protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London today.

“But I’m afraid at the moment, Members of Parliament, every time they take away our negotiating leverage, they leave the UK weaker and weaker and it’s very sad to watch.

“We need to decide that we’re leaving. The reason we voted against that agreement again last night is because it isn’t Brexit. It’s Brexit in name only. It would leave us in the dreadful position of being a regulatory satellite of the EU, and we’d rightly be punished at the ballot box.

“I’m very confident that there won’t be a general election. The reason for that is that we stood as Conservatives on a manifesto that those of us on the Eurosceptic side are trying to honour. You’d have to have a supermajority in the House of Commons or two no-confidence votes and I don’t think either of those will happen.”

Earlier: Boris Johnson claims EU will come up with 'real fix' for impasse 'at the end'

The UK's former foreign secretary Boris Johnson claimed the EU would come up with a new deal by March 29.

He told LBC Radio in London: "I covered a lot of EU summits, I have been to a lot of them in my time, I have seen how the EU works.

"The horses always change places in the final furlong, it's always at five minutes to midnight that the real deal is done.

"In Brussels, the real fix is always in at the end."

Mr Johnson said Theresa May's decision to give Tories a free vote on rejecting a no-deal Brexit was "absurd".

He said: "I think this is a fundamental matter of government policy, whether or not you are going to disable your negotiators by saying you are willing to walk away from the table or not.

"If you are not able to walk away from a negotiation, what is your negotiating leverage?"

Earlier: MPs to vote on blocking no-deal Brexit after May suffers humiliating defeat

British MPs are set to vote on whether to block a no-deal Brexit after Theresa May suffered a humiliating defeat as her EU Withdrawal Agreement was rejected by an overwhelming majority for the second time.

Conservative MPs will be given a free vote this evening on whether they are willing for the UK to leave the EU without a deal at the end of the month.

They will vote on a motion stating “this House declines to approve leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a framework on the future relationship on March 29”.

If MPs reject no-deal – as most Westminster observers expect – a third vote will follow tomorrow on whether to authorise Mrs May to request an extension of the two-year Article 50 negotiation process.

Members of the Malthouse Compromise group of Tories from both Leave and Remain wings immediately tabled an amendment proposing a “standstill” agreement lasting as late as the end of 2021, during which the UK would observe EU rules and pay into Brussels budgets while a full trade deal is negotiated.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>(PA Graphics)</figcaption>
(PA Graphics)

Labour said allowing a free vote on no-deal showed Mrs May had “given up any pretence of leading the country”.

The DUP’s Ian Paisley said he would like to see a no-deal option left on the table, telling BBC Two’s Newsnight: “If you vote to remove this from the Prime Minister’s arsenal essentially she will have to blink again.”

And Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi said it would be “consistent for all of us in Government to leave no-deal on the table”.

Early today, the UK will publish further details of its own no-deal plans – including tariff rates for imports.

And the Cabinet is expected to meet in the morning, ahead of the Chancellor’s Spring Statement to the Commons on Wednesday afternoon.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>MPs in the Commons before the result on Tuesday night (UK Parliament/Mark Duffy)</figcaption>
MPs in the Commons before the result on Tuesday night (UK Parliament/Mark Duffy)

It comes after MPs voted by 391 to 242 against the deal despite the British Prime Minister’s assurance new agreements reached with Jean-Claude Juncker in Strasbourg would ensure the UK cannot be trapped in the controversial backstop arrangement indefinitely.

Although the 149 margin was reduced from the record 230-vote defeat of the first “meaningful vote” in January, Mrs May was left far adrift from a majority with just 17 days to go to the scheduled date of Brexit on March 29.

Some 75 Conservative MPs rebelled to vote against the deal, while just three Labour MPs and four independents joined the 235 Tories who backed it.

Battling with a croaky voice, Mrs May said she still believed leaving with a deal was the best option for Britain and “the deal we’ve negotiated is the best and indeed the only deal available”.

She told MPs: “Let me be clear. Voting against leaving without a deal and for an extension does not solve the problems we face.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Theresa May said she still believed leaving with a deal was the best option for Britain (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)</figcaption>
Theresa May said she still believed leaving with a deal was the best option for Britain (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

“The EU will want to know what use we mean to make of such an extension and this House will have to answer that question.

“Does it wish to revoke Article 50? Does it want to hold a second referendum? Or does it want to leave with a deal, but not this deal?

“These are unenviable choices. Thanks to the decision that the House has made this evening, they are choices that must now be faced.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party would once more put forward its own proposal for a deal and repeated his demand for a general election.

“The Prime Minister has run down the clock and the clock has been run out on her,” Mr Corbyn said.

An extension of Article 50 requires the unanimous agreement of all 27 remaining member states and Mr Juncker has warned it cannot stretch beyond May 23 unless the UK takes part in the European Parliament elections starting on that date.

The European Commission president had already said if MPs turned down the package agreed in Strasbourg on Monday there would be “no third chance” to renegotiate.

Following the vote, a spokesman for European Council president Donald Tusk said the EU had done “all that is possible” to reach an agreement and would require “a credible justification” from the UK for any extension.

“It is difficult to see what more we can do,” he said.

- Press Association