MPs back May's bid to change deal but EU says nothing has changed

Pedro Gonçalves
MPs back May's bid to change deal but EU says nothing has changed

A divided House of Commons has agreed to give Theresa May two more weeks to save her Brexit deal as she pledged to go back to Brussels and demand changes to the Irish backstop. However, minutes after the result, the EU announced it was not prepared to reopen the deal.

MPs backed seeking "alternative arrangements" to replace the Irish backstop in Theresa May's original Brexit plan that was crushed recently. 

The proposal - put forward by Tory MP Sir Graham Brady - had the support of the government and won by 16 votes.

"It is now clear that there is a route that can secure a substantial and sustainable majority in this house for leaving the EU, with a deal"

Theresa May had urged MPs to vote in favour of it, to give her a mandate to return to Brussels and re-open negotiations in order to secure a "legally binding change" with just 59 days to go until exit day.

Another amendment, rejecting a no-deal Brexit, also won the support of Parliament on Tuesday, but the vote was not binding,  meaning the date for exit remains 29 March.

"It is now clear that there is a route that can secure a substantial and sustainable majority in this house for leaving the EU, with a deal," May said.

She assured MPs she would try to bring back a renegotiated deal for parliament to approve, in a "meaningful vote", as soon as possible. If she has not managed to do so by 13 February, the government will table a statement about what it plans to do next and allow MPs to vote on it on 14 February.

At the mercy of Brussels

Within minutes of the Commons backing the prime minister's plan to replace the Irish backstop, a spokesman for the European council's president insisted Donald Tusk would not permit any changes to the deal already agreed with Downing Street.

The EU is "united" over the negotiated Brexit deal, the bloc's chief negotiator Michel Barnier quickly added, after the UK PM said she wants to reopen it.

The Withdrawal Agreement is not open for renegotiation, the Irish government said in a statement Tuesday shortly after the British Parliament voted to "require" that alternative arrangements to the Northern Ireland backstop be put in place.

"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," Ireland said.

Leo Varadkar, Ireland's PM, said in response to the result that the EU needed to "hold our nerve".

The backstop is meant to prevent the return of a hard Irish border, but is strongly opposed by Eurosceptic Tories who fear it would bind the UK in close ties with the EU in perpetuity. 

Industry prepares for no-deal Brexit...

Meanwhile, employers' group the CBI said businesses were likely to accelerate their plans for a no-deal Brexit.

Carolyn Fairbairn, head of the CBI, said: "I don't think there will be a single business this morning who is stopping or halting their no-deal planning as a result of what happened yesterday.

"The amendment feels like a real throw of the dice."

The British Chambers of Commerce and the British Property Federation have both bemoaned Tuesday's Parliamentary vote, stressing that the UK leaving the EU without a deal is the worst possible outcome for British businesses.

CEO of the British Property Federation, Melanie Leech, issued a plea for the government to come together.

...and so does Treasury

The UK's Treasury Committee has started an inquiry into the future of the nation's financial services firms after Brexit.

Among the key areas of the Committee's focus will be the government's financial services priorities while negotiating the UK's trading relationship with the EU and third countries.

The Committee will examine how the UK can benefit from pursuing trade with other third countries. Another issue of consideration will be whether the UK should retain the existing regulatory constraints applicable to these countries.

The Committee will also assess other issues including fintech.

Isle of Man and Jersey  gives EU residents post-Brexit assurances

EU nationals who wish to stay on in the island after Brexit will not be charged an application fee to settle here, the chief minister has announced.

"I am pleased to advise there will be no fee for EU citizens who wish to apply to remain in the Isle of Man after Brexit."

The 2016 Isle of Man Census indicated there were 4,184 EU citizens living and working in the Isle of Man.

Jersey's Home Affairs Minister said the £25 fee for the island's Settled Status Scheme would be scrapped to ensure EU nationals living there are not put at a disadvantage.

The original £65 has now been scrapped by Theresa May.

EU citizens and their family members who, by December 31, 2020, have been continuously resident here or in the UK for five years will be eligible for 'settled status' under immigration law, entitling them to stay indefinitely.

EU citizens and their family members who arrive by the end of 2020, but won't have been continuously resident for five years, will be eligible for 'pre-settled status', enabling them to stay until they reach the five year threshold for 'settled status', as reported by International Investment.