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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 February 2019

Brexit vote: Theresa May facing heavy defeat

MPs expected to reject the withdrawal bill in Tuesday evening's crunch vote

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Getty Images
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Getty Images

As the final day of the debate got underway at Westminster, Britain’s prime minister Theresa May was steeled for a heavy loss on the Brexit deal vote before parliament on Tuesday evening.

Some MPs from her ruling Conservative Party are expected to join opposition parties in opposing the deal making it unlikely she will secure the 318 votes needed to pass the bill.

"No, it is not perfect. And yes, it is a compromise," Mrs May told the House of Commons on Monday evening.

"But when the history books are written, people will look at the decision of this house... and ask: did we deliver on the country's vote to leave the European Union?"

Sterling edged up early on Tuesday morning gaining 0.3 per cent to $1.2901 before the vote.

The pound is expected to tumble if Mrs May is defeated because of the increased threat of a no-deal Brexit, which analysts agree would be bad for the British economy.

The vote, which was originally billed for December, was postponed when it became clear that the government would lose.

Mrs May held a cabinet meeting on Tuesday before parliamentary debate resumed around midday. The so-called “meaningful vote” is expected to begin at 7pm GMT (11pm GST).

Opening the debate, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox implored MPs to vote for the deal, saying it offered an "orderly, predictable and legally certain" way of exiting the EU.

He said: "You are not children in the playground, you are legislators, and it is your job. We are playing with people's lives."

Four amendments will be put to the vote before MPs have their say on the withdrawal agreement. The amendments propose to reshape the deal as it stands.

But even if any of the amendments are passed, there is no guarantee the EU would accept changes to the withdrawal agreement.

Speaking in Dublin on Tuesday afternoon, Ireland's Taoiseach (prime minister) said the withdrawal deal was "the only agreement on the table".

More than 100 Conservative MPs are thought to rebel as well as 10 MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which supports Mrs May’s minority government.

Conservative Brexiteer Sir Bill Cash said he would be voting against the deal, which would leave Britain "indefinitely shackled" to the EU.

"The deal is not compromise," he said. "It is capitulation."

The DUP are opposed to the backstop proposals designed to avoid a hard border in Ireland, which, if activated, would see Northern Ireland more closely aligned with the EU’s rules.

Sammy Wilson, the DUP’s Brexit spokesman, told the BBC: "We fought a terrorist campaign to stay part of the United Kingdom...we are not going to allow bureaucrats in Brussels to separate us from the rest of the United Kingdom."

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Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has threatened to table a vote of no confidence in Mrs May’s government if she loses the vote but has not said when he will do this.

Shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer said the confidence vote would take place “soon” after if the Brexit deal is defeated.

If the Brexit withdrawal bill is rejected by parliament, the government must put forward a “Plan B” by Monday at the latest.

Mrs May has repeatedly said that Britain will leave the EU on March 29, 2019.

But speculation is growing that Brexit could be delayed.

Speaking in parliament, senior Conservative MP Kenneth Clarke called for Article 50, which signalled Britain's intention to leave the world's largest trading bloc, to be revoked as a "means of delay" if the agreement fails to win parliamentary support.

However, the attorney general has said Article 50 cannot be revoked unless Brexit is cancelled.

Environment minister Michael Gove told the BBC on Tuesday morning that opposing the deal would lead to a no-deal Brexit “or worse, no Brexit at all”.

"I think if we don’t vote for the deal tonight, in the words of Jon Snow, “winter is coming,” he said. "I think if we don’t vote for the deal tonight we will do damage to our democracy by saying to people that we are not going to implement Brexit, and the opportunity that all of us have to live up to our democratic obligations is clear."

Updated: January 15, 2019 07:49 PM

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