Brexit: Theresa May suffers fresh Commons defeat

Brexit: Theresa May suffers fresh Commons defeat

London, Feb 15 (IANS) UK Prime Minister Theresa May has suffered another significant defeat in the House of Commons over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, dealing a blow to her hopes of uniting the Conservatives around a renegotiated Brexit deal.

May failed to win support for her EU strategy after the pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG), led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, abstained on a government motion on Thursday because it appeared to rule out a no-deal Brexit, the Guardian reported.

The defeat marked the end of a temporary truce over Brexit among Conservative MPs, who had voted last month in favour of May’s strategy if she could get concessions from Brussels on the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop.

MPs voted by 303 to 258 – a majority of 45 – against a motion endorsing the government’s negotiating strategy.

The defeat has no legal force and Downing Street said it would not change the Prime Minister’s approach to talks with the EU.

May had earlier assured European negotiators that she could get a majority for a revised Brexit plan, if they made some concessions. But this latest show of disunity from lawmakers and rebellion from within her own party, appeared to confirm suspicions that legislators cannot come together around any plan they could accept.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn urged May to “admit her Brexit strategy has failed” and to come forward with a plan Parliament would support.

The voting figures showed it was not just hardline Brexiteers that failed to support the government – a number of Tory Remainers also declined to vote – as more than a fifth of the party in the Commons failed to back the government.

Five Conservative MPs – Brexiteers Peter Bone, Sir Christopher Chope, Philip Hollobone and Anne Marie Morris, and the pro-Remain Sarah Wollaston – even voted with Labour against the motion.

Downing Street blamed Corbyn for the defeat, saying he had “yet again put partisan considerations ahead of the national interest” by voting against the government’s motion.

No. 10 had earlier warned that defeat could damage May’s negotiating position as she seeks to make changes to the controversial backstop “insurance policy” in her deal to avoid customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Also, a Scottish National Party amendment, backed by the Liberal Democrats and calling for Britain’s departure from the EU on March 29 to be delayed by three months, was defeated by 93 votes to 315 after most Labour MPs abstained.

Deputy Chairman Steve Baker of pro-Brexit group ERG told the BBC that they still supported efforts to get “alternative arrangements” to replace the controversial Irish backstop plan, describing May’s defeat as a “storm in a teacup”.

In Brussels, diplomats said the result showed that the Prime Minister was incapable of commanding the support of her party on key votes and that she needed to work cross-party. “No one can take any good from this,” said one diplomat.

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