- Theresa May secures "legally binding" assurances from the EU on her Brexit deal.
- The assurances go some way short of the demands of previous opponents of her deal.
- Conservative Brexiteers are split over whether to back the deal.
- The House of Commons will vote on the deal on Tuesday evening. Defeat will trigger a series of votes on delaying Brexit.
- The EU warns that a second rejection of the deal could mean that Brexit might "not happen" at all.
LONDON — The future of Theresa May’s Brexit deal and her premiership hangs in the balance after she secured a series of new "legally binding" assurances from the EU ahead of a crunch commons vote on her deal.
The prime minister met for last-minute talks with EU leaders in Strasbourg on Monday evening before announcing the revised terms of her deal.
The deal will be put to MPs on Tuesday evening after it was previously defeated by a record-breaking majority back in January.
Any further defeat will then trigger a series of parliamentary votes which could compel the prime minister to seek to delay Brexit, which in turn would throw May’s premiership into jeopardy.
Under the terms of last night’s agreement, the EU has formalised previous assurances on the controversial Northern Ireland backstop as well as allowed Britain the right to seek independent arbitration on exiting it.
The UK has also put forward a "unilateral declaration" stating that it believes it can exit the backstop if it believes the EU is acting in bad faith in future negotiations.
May said the deal had been "improved" and urged her MPs to unite behind it.
“What we have secured is very clearly that the backstop cannot be indefinite; cannot become permanent. It is only temporary," the prime minister said last night.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that MPs must back the deal, or risk Brexit not happening at all.
"Let us be crystal clear about the choice – it is this deal or Brexit might not happen at all," he said.
"There will be no new negotiations. It is this. In politics, sometimes you get a second chance. It is what we do with the second chance that counts. Because there will be no third chance."
In a further warning to MPs, the text of last night’s agreement also revealed that the EU will not tolerate a delay to Brexit beyond the last week of May, unless Britain takes part in the upcoming European Parliament elections.
Defeat still looks likely
UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor
Despite the new assurances, the Withdrawal Agreement itself remains unchanged and the new terms go some way short of the previous demands of Conservative opponents of the deal that the backstop should be time-limited and that Britain should be free to unilaterally withdraw from it.
Opponents of the deal appeared split on Monday evening with the chairman of the European Research Group of pro-Brexit MPs, Jacob Rees-Mogg, describing the agreement as a "step in the right direction," while his deputy, Steve Baker, said it fell "short of what was expected."
The result tonight will hang in part on whether the Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May’s minority government, have been persuaded.
Their leader, Arlene Foster, released a non-committal statement last night stating that the party would examine the new agreement in detail before making a decision.
Conservative MPs will also be waiting to hear from the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, who is expected later today to alter his previous legal advice that Britain could be kept in the backstop indefinitely.
While it looks likely that May will significantly reduce the scale of her defeat tonight from the record-breaking 230 vote deficit her deal received back in January, a number of previous opponents of the deal signaled on Monday evening that their opposition remained.
"I will be voting against the government’s motion on EU withdrawal tomorrow," the Remain-supporting Conservative MP Damian Collins tweeted.
"Nothing has really changed since last November. We have the power to apply to an arbitration panel to leave the back stop, but not the right to leave by ourselves."
Labour MPs, around 30 of whom have suggested that they are willing to be persuaded to back the deal, are unlikely to switch their support behind it unless the vote appears to be winnable.
MPs will later on Tuesday seek to add a series of amendments to the government’s motion on the deal which will be voted on from 7.00 pm (GMT).
If defeated the government will immediately announce the schedule on votes for leaving the EU without a deal, or delaying Brexit, which will be voted on later in the week.
- Theresa May to make last-ditch Brexit plea with the EU as MPs prepare to reject her deal
- The Conservatives must think about replacing Theresa May ‘by the end of 2019’
- Brexit is a major national ‘crisis’ which may trigger a public inquiry, says former UK ambassador