British Prime Minister Theresa May is set to launch an audacious attempt to reopen the Brexit talks with the European Union after MPs voted in favour of reforming the controversial Irish border backstop arrangements.
Following a night of high drama, during which the MPs voted against a plan that could have delayed Brexit, Theresa May said that she had a new mandate to get changes to the withdrawal agreement.
In what could be proven to be a significant moment in her bids to get a deal, hardline Brexiters supported a plan to replace the controversial backstop with “alternative arrangements” in order to prevent a hard border with Ireland.
However, the scale of the task of the Prime Minister was made clear within minutes of her victory in the Commons, with a spokesperson for Donald Tusk, the President of the European Commission, insisting that the withdrawal agreement that was signed off last December was not up for renegotiation.
Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary who resigned from the Cabinet in 2018 as a protest at the negotiation strategy of PM May, dismissed the comments.
He stated: “It takes two to tango.”
He added: “There’s a negotiation going on. You would expect him to say that but believe me the EU has every incentive to give us the deal we need.”
Heading into the Commons votes Tuesday night, all eyes were on the two amendments which were seen as possible game-changers.
Yvette Cooper, a Labour MP, tabled a plan which would have given the MPs the option of instructing PM May to extend the negotiation process of Article 50 past the March 29 deadline if no deal had been struck by the end of next month.
PM May argued that the proposal achieved nothing other than delaying Brexit and ordered her MPs to vote against the amendment.
While 17 Tories opposed her orders, 14 Labour MPs voted with the UK government, helping them to reach a majority of 23.
The government then lost by eight votes a non-legally binding motion that rules out a no deal Brexit. It prompted concerns among Tory whips that they would also be defeated on the key amendment that calls for a renegotiation of the backstop.
As the MPs voted on the said plan that was tabled by Sir Graham Brady, a senior Tory, Julian Smith, a government chief whip, approached the Conservatives in the Commons chamber asking for their support.
Ken Clarke, the pro-EU Tory grandee, laughed him off, however, Justine Greening, a former Cabinet minister, was enraged by the approach.
After Smith said to her “We’re this close to losing power,” Greening reportedly shouted back at him saying: “This is the first time you have spoken to me about it!”
Following the announcement of the result – with 317 MPs supporting the plan and 301 voting against – PM May told the MPs: “My colleagues and I will talk to the EU about how we address the House’s views.”
She continued: “There is limited appetite for such a change in the EU and negotiating it will not be easy. But in contrast to a fortnight ago, this House has made it clear what it needs to approve a Withdrawal Agreement.”
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, responded to the Prime Minister by finally agreeing to meet with her to talk about what he would like to see in the deal to gain the support of his party.
Initially, Corbyn had refused the invitation of May for discussions two weeks ago. He said that the PM must rule out ‘no deal’ as a Brexit option first.
While the European Union is currently refusing to reopen the discussions on the withdrawal agreement, the economic implications of a no deal on the members of the bloc were reinforced by a report from the government of Ireland.
It warned that the country would see a four percent hit on its economic growth, an increase in unemployment and deteriorating public finances if there was no agreement between the bloc and Britain.