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PM wins support to renegotiate Brexit backstop – but EU says no | Politics News



Theresa May has hailed a “mandate” given to her by MPs to renegotiate her Brexit deal, despite admitting “it will not be easy” in the face of the EU’s repeated refusal to reopen talks.

The prime minister enjoyed rare success in the House of Commons on Tuesday night, as MPs held a series of votes on how she should proceed with Brexit.

After her withdrawal agreement was overwhelmingly rejected by the Commons earlier this month, Mrs May had been forced to return to MPs to set out her next steps.

She was boosted on Tuesday night when a majority of MPs gave their support for her withdrawal agreement, but on the condition the controversial Northern Ireland backstop is replaced by “alternative arrangements”.

An amendment to the prime minister’s motion tabled by Tory Brexiteer Sir Graham Brady, calling for the replacement of the backstop, was passed by 317 votes to 301.

Theresa May tells House of Commons she wants to re-open Brexit negotiations.

May responds after Brady amendment passes

The backstop is an arrangement to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland should such a scenario not be averted by a future UK-EU trade relationship, but is unpopular with a significant number of MPs.

The passing of Sir Graham’s amendment, which was supported by the government, allowed Mrs May to applaud how a majority of MPs have “now said they would support a deal with changes to the backstop”.

“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,” she added.

Mrs May admitted “there is limited appetite for such a change in the EU and negotiating it will not be easy”, but noted how the Commons has now “made it clear what it needs to approve a withdrawal agreement”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says he will meet Theresa May to discuss Brexit after MPs voted against no deal.

Corbyn agrees to meet May over Brexit

The prime minister’s task in persuading Brussels to budge on the backstop was immediately made stark when the remaining 27 EU member states reiterated their opposition to reworking the UK’s withdrawal agreement.

A spokesperson for European Council president Donald Tusk said: “The withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation.

“The agreement is a carefully negotiated compromise, which balances the UK position on customs and the single market with avoiding a hard border and protecting the integrity of the EU customs union and single market.

“The best way to ensure an orderly withdrawal is to ratify this agreement.”

Both the Irish and French government also stated their opposition to reworking the terms of the Brexit deal on Tuesday night.

Despite the prime minister’s success in securing a majority for Sir Graham’s amendment – which came after the DUP and the European Research Group of Conservative eurosceptics swung behind the proposal – the government did suffer a Commons defeat on Tuesday.

MPs voted by 318 to 310 to reject the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement or a blueprint for its future relationship with the bloc – known as a no-deal Brexit.

Those in favour of rejecting no deal included 17 Tory rebels.

However, that amendment – tabled by Tory ex-cabinet minister Dame Caroline Spelman and Labour’s Jack Dromey – is not legally-binding on the government.

The Commons had earlier rejected another plan, spearheaded by Labour MP Yvette Cooper, to legally force the prime minister to delay Brexit if no withdrawal agreement is approved by MPs by the end of next month.

Despite Labour formally supporting Ms Cooper’s amendment, 14 Labour MPs rebelled to vote against the proposal.

A majority of MPs also voted against a bid by Tory Remainer Dominic Grieve for the House of Commons to wrest control of the business agenda from government and hold a series of votes on alternative Brexit options.

The Commons rejection of a no-deal Brexit, through the Spelman-Dromey amendment, allowed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to reverse his opposition to taking up Mrs May’s invitation to talks on Brexit.

He had previously refused to meet with the prime minister unless she ruled out a no-deal outcome.

Mr Corbyn told MPs after Tuesday’s votes: “Since we have this debate and the House has emphatically voted to reject the no-deal option that the prime minister was supporting, could I say that we are prepared to meet her to put forward the points of the view of the Labour Party of the kind of agreement we want with the EU.”

As the prime minister embarks on her attempt to persuade EU leaders to renegotiate her Brexit deal, she is expected to speak to Mr Tusk over the phone on Wednesday.

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