The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has published her reply to the Leader of Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, following their meeting last week. Writing to Corbyn yesterday, May said that they agreed that “the UK should leave the European Union with a deal and that the urgent task at hand is to find a deal that honours our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland, can command support in Parliament and can be negotiated with the EU – not to seek an election or second referendum.” In respect of the Irish backstop, May said she would like the two parties to have discussions about the “exact nature” of the “alternative arrangements” that could command support in Parliament, while she also said the Government would give Parliament “a bigger say in the mandate for the next phase of the negotiations.” The Prime Minister said the existing Political Declaration “explicitly provides for the benefits of a Customs Union” while also recognising “the development of the UK’s independent trade policy beyond our economic partnership with the EU.” May added that while her Government “does not support automatically following EU rules” in the areas of workers’ rights and environmental protections after Brexit, she was “prepared to commit to asking Parliament whether it wishes to follow suit whenever the EU changes its standards in these areas.”
Meanwhile, the House of Commons will this week debate and vote on a Government motion on the next steps in the Brexit negotiations. Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, James Brokenshire, said, “The government will commit that if the meaningful vote, in other words the deal coming back, has not happened by the 27th February, then we would allow a further motion votable in parliament to take place.”
This comes as the Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, said that Labour would put down an amendment seeking to put a “hard stop” to the negotiations, compelling the Government to bring forward the second meaningful vote before 26 February. Starmer told the Sunday Times that the Government was “pretending to make progress while actually running the clock down,” adding, “Labour can’t allow that to happen.”
Elsewhere, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will meet EU Chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels today to discuss possible changes to the Brexit deal.
Stephen Booth: Tory MPs face a test of nerve over the Irish backstop
In a new blog for CapX, Open Europe’s Stephen Booth writes that the “next two weeks will be immensely important in the multi-dimensional standoff that Brexit has become.” As Parliament votes this week, Brussels will be watching closely in judging how much it will move on the backstop. “The EU continues to suggest it is open to changes to the Political Declaration on the Future Partnership rather than to the Withdrawal Agreement, despite MPs’ instruction that the backstop is the problem. This may be semantics. Is adding a new protocol or mini-treaty on the backstop “reopening” the Withdrawal Agreement, or not?” He adds that without a new agreement, “loyalist Conservative backbench MPs who are backing the PM’s deal and who are opposed to No Deal will face a test of nerve,” adding “if the Government and the EU detect no appetite whatsoever amongst Brexiteers for any negotiable compromise on the backstop, a softer Brexit becomes ever more likely?”