British MPs have voted against proposals to hand Parliament more control over Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations, while supporting a non-binding amendment to rule out a damaging no-deal divorce from Europe.
Parliament on Wednesday morning cast their ballots on seven key amendments to the UK’s fraught departure from the European Union, as Prime Minister May urged them to vote against her own unpopular Brexit deal.
A Labor amendment that sought to pave the way for Parliament to consider alternatives to Ms May’s deal with the EU was rejected by 321 votes to 301 in a victory for the PM, who said she was deeply concerned that the proposal would “usurp the proper role of the executive”.
The House of Commons also rejected a bid by Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn to force a debate on Labor’s Brexit plans.
Ahead of voting to amend Ms May’s Brexit deal, which was roundly rejected on January 15, the Prime Minister vowed to return to Europe to renegotiate the exit arrangements, particularly the unpopular Irish border “backstop”.
MPs voted 317 to 301 in favour of seeking an alternative to the backstop, which keeps the border between EU-member Ireland and British-controlled Northern Ireland free of checkpoints.
After the result, Ms May said she now had a mandate to go back to Europe for further negotiations with the EU.
“Tonight a majority of members have said they would support a deal with changes to the backstop combined with measures to address concerns over Parliament’s role in the negotiation of the future relationship and commitments on workers’ rights in law where need be,” she said.
“It’s now clear there is a route that can secure a substantial and sustainable majority in this House for leaving the EU with a deal.
“We will now take this mandate forward and seek to obtain legally binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement that deal with concerns on the backstop while guaranteeing no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”
European Council President Donald Tusk, however, responded by declaring the existing Brexit deal was not up for renegotiation.
“The Withdrawal agreement is, and remains, the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union,” Mr Tusk said via a spokesman.
“The backstop is part of the Withdrawal Agreement, and the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for renegotiation.”
Ms May’s unpopular Brexit deal suffered a humiliating defeat in Parliament on January 15.
The Irish border is crucial to the Brexit deal because it will be the only land frontier between the UK and the EU, and because the free flow of people and goods underpins both the local economy and Northern Ireland’s peace process.
Pro-Brexit lawmakers have been fiercely opposed to the backstop because they fear it will trap Britain in the EU’s regulatory regime.
MPs rejected two amendments setting out a path for Parliament to prevent a no-deal exit if Ms May cannot get a deal passed next month.
However, they did later approve a symbolic proposal calling on the government to stop a potentially disorderly no-deal exit.
The so-called Spelman amendment, passed by 318 votes to 310, “rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship”.
It sends a signal that Parliament as a whole opposes leaving the EU without a negotiated agreement, which will happen by default on March 29 if no alternative is agreed, but does not compel the government to prevent such a departure or provide a mechanism for doing so.
The British pound, which recently hit a 2-1/2-month high of $US1.3218 on hopes that a no-deal Brexit would be avoided, fell about 0.7 per cent after the amendments were voted down.
Mr Corbyn said he would meet Ms May to “find a sensible Brexit solution that works for the whole country”, listing changes that Labour wanted to see.