Blow for May as MPs pass Brexit rebel amendment

Britain's battle over Brexit resumes ahead of big vote

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Tuesday (11 December) that the EU would be open to offer "clarifications" to British Prime Minister Theresa May, but insisted that the withdrawal agreement was the "best possible, the only possible" deal.

According to a report from the BBC, "MPs have backed measures created to thwart preparations for a no-deal Brexit, by defeating the government in the House of Commons".

The withdrawal agreement, which is required before more wide-ranging discussions on future relations can commence, foresees relatively close economic ties with Europe, particularly in the immediate aftermath of Brexit, in order to avoid the imposition of a hard border between European Union member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. But the bloc refuses to reopen the agreement, and opposition to the negotiated deal remains strong among British lawmakers.

Before the vote, May's government said a defeat would be "inconvenient rather than significant", noting that there were other mechanisms that would allow the government to raise money.

The House of Commons voted to reduce the time the government has to explain its "plan B" from 21 sitting days to three if, as expected, lawmakers reject the draft Brexit agreement in a vote on Tuesday.

Eurosceptic Conservatives and Northern Ireland's tiny Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up May's government, fear it could tie London to Brussels for years to come.

But DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the proposals were "meaningless and cosmetic", adding he would keep pressing for changes to the overall deal.

May is also still seeking assurances on the operation of the backstop from European leaders, which she hopes to deliver before the vote next week.

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In December, Mrs May postponed the crucial vote because it appeared here government would be defeated - something which would have plunged the Brexit process into further crisis.

But without the DUP's support, and with many of May's Conservative MP still strongly opposed, the deal can not pass.

The Northern Ireland assembly will be entitled to reject new European Union laws and regulations in the Brexit backstop, according to a paper published by the government on Wednesday.

But, combined with a vote late on Tuesday when the government lost on the finance bill, the defeats underline May's precarious position in parliament.

The amendment, which was tabled by former cabinet ministers Yvette Cooper (Labour) and Nicky Morgan (Conservative), seeks to impose conditions to prevent the government from raising taxes in the event of the country crashing out of Europe with no deal with the EU. It passed by 308 votes to 297.

The move by Corbyn - himself criticised for his failure to push for a second referendum - came after the First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) Nicola Sturgeon said that she would announce her preferred timetable for a second referendum on Scottish independence "when we get to the end of this phase of the Brexit process".

Brexiteer Conservatives questioned whether Mr Bercow's decision should have been allowed under Parliamentary rules. "We are leaving the EU on the 29th of March this year, because that's what Article 50 says, that's what Parliament voted for, and that's now what domestic British legislation says as well", Britain's minister of state for exiting the EU, Martin Callanan, told reporters in Brussels.

Six former cabinet ministers: Ken Clarke, Michael Fallon, Justine Greening, Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin and Nicky Morgan backed the amendment, as well as party grandees such as Oliver Letwin and Nicholas Soames, and Remainer rebels Jonathan Djanogly, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston.

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