UK’s Brexit Commons vote now unlikely before Christmas

  • Vote had been due to take place on Tuesday evening, but was pulled amid near-unanimous expectations the government would lose heavily
  • Theresa May is in Brussels for a European Council summit
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 December, 2018, 9:49pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 6:04am

The crunch vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal appears very unlikely to take place before Christmas after the newly-published schedule for Commons business next week showed no sign of it.

Parliament starts its Christmas recess next Friday, but the business for the week announced by the leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, featured no Brexit elements beyond a statement by May on Monday about this week’s EU summit.

Downing Street refused to confirm that the schedule definitely means that the vote – which the government has promised will take place before January 21 – has been put off till the New Year. However, it is understood that a vote before Christmas is seen as very unlikely.

The vote, which had been due to take place on Tuesday evening at the end of five days of debate, was pulled amid near-unanimous expectations the government would lose heavily.

Announcing the decision, May said she was aware of particular worries about the Northern Irish backstop plan, the guarantee to prevent a hard Irish border if no permanent customs solution is found, and would seek clarification from EU leaders.

After a whistle-stop tour of EU capitals on Tuesday – and with a day’s break to win a no-confidence vote in her leadership among Conservative MPs – May is in Brussels on Thursday and Friday for a European Council summit.

On the scheduling of the vote, May’s spokeswoman said: “We will be guided by the pace at which we can get the assurances that parliament needs. And obviously, a key part of that is happening today and tomorrow in Brussels, where the PM is meeting fellow leaders.”

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Responding to Leadsom’s business statement, Labour’s shadow leader of the house, Valerie Vaz, said the party wanted a Commons statement on Monday to explain when the vote would happen, and if it would involve a new debate or a resumption of the last one, which was interrupted after three days.

“Each week we stand here and we trust what the leader says, we trust the agreements we make,” Vaz said. “How can we trust this government any more? Their mantra is, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. It should now be, nothing is agreed – ever.”

The three days of debate saw 164 MPs speak, with a similar number still waiting to do so.

“The leader must say when they will be given their chance to make their case,” Vaz said.

Leadsom said only that the vote would take place “at the latest by 21 January”. She added: “Honourable members should rest assured that the prime minister is very much seeking to address the concerns that have been made by this house.”

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The SNP’s Pete Wishart added to the condemnation. He told Leadsom: “History will judge the decision to cancel Tuesday’s meaningful vote as probably the single biggest act of political cowardice this house has ever witnessed.”

Meanwhile on Thursday, the UK supreme court said that a key part of the Scottish government’s emergency Brexit legislation breaches the law because ministers in Edinburgh cannot veto legislation introduced by the UK government.

UK ministers said the ruling vindicated their decision to challenge legislation introduced by the Scottish parliament earlier this year in a constitutional confrontation over the repatriation of EU powers into domestic law.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, and Carwyn Jones, then first minister of Wales, accused Theresa May’s government of a “power grab” because the UK government wanted to retain the final say over scores of pieces of legislation.