The Prime Minister has outlined her latest plan to push her Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament, warning that if MPs vote against the second reading of the Bill they are “voting to stop Brexit”.
Theresa May said her Withdrawal Agreement Bill will include a vote by MPs on whether to hold a second referendum.
She added that if her deal was rejected again: “If they do so the consequences could hardly be greater – reject this deal and leaving the EU with a negotiated deal any time soon will be dead in the water and what would we do then? If not no-deal then it would have to be a general election or a second referendum that could lead to revocation and no Brexit at all.”
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill will go to the Commons in early June, with defeat likely to hasten Mrs May’s departure from Number 10.
Conservative MP Owen Paterson, a prominent Eurosceptic, tweeted: “I said 2 weeks ago ‘The only promise the PM has still to break is her opposition to a 2nd referendum. Given her record, who would now bet against another “pivot” in that direction?’
“I will definitely not be supporting WAB, a direct insult to 17.4m people,” he added.
Mr Paterson’s fellow European Research Group member Steve Baker echoed his sentiments, tweeting: “Reaction to this speech has been extremely adverse so far among MPs and campaigners.”
There has been a mixed reaction from Mrs May’s party, with former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith saying there was nothing new in the latest deal: “I can’t see that we’ve taken back control over anything.
“The backstop is still there, it’s a customs union in all but name and it puts Brussels firmly in control of our destiny.
“There’s nothing new or bold about this bad buffet of non-Brexit options.
“At a time when people are deserting the main parties this is the PM’s response, to do all she can to defy the result of the referendum. Today the Government has moved from take back control to give back control.”
Conservative MP and Brexiteer Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP said she was “very unlikely” to vote for the deal, adding: “It still contains the dreaded backstop, endangering our Union and selling out the people of Northern Ireland.”
But International Development Secretary Rory Stewart tweeted that his leader was right: “We need to get Brexit done”.
And Education minister Chris Skidmore said it was “the last chance for compromise”.
During the Q&A after her speech, Mrs May was asked if she would resign if the Withdrawal Agreement Bill was defeated and replied: “That was last week’s news.
“And I set out with the chairman of the 22 (1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers) what would be happening.”
Responding, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said her party would be voting against the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to ensure Brexit was stopped:
As she ended the speech, the PM said: “What matters now is honouring the result of the referendum and seizing the opportunity that is right before us.
“So we are making a new offer to find common ground in Parliament. That is now the only way to deliver Brexit.
“Over the next two weeks the Government will be making the case for this deal in Parliament, in the media and in the country.
“Tomorrow I will make a statement to the House of Commons. And there will opportunities throughout the Bill for MPs on all sides to have their say.
“But I say with conviction to every MP of every party – I have compromised. Now I ask you to compromise too. ”
Mrs May added: “This is a huge opportunity for the United Kingdom.
“Out of the EU. Out of ever-closer union. Free to do things differently. And doing so in a way that protects jobs, protects our security, maintains a close relationship with our friends and works for the whole United Kingdom.
“It is practical. It is responsible. It is deliverable. And right now, it is slipping away from us. We risk losing a great opportunity.”
She then took questions from reporters in the audience.
As Mrs May warned this was the last chance to avoid “a nightmare future of permanently polarised politics”, she said her deal would be guaranteed to last for “at least this Parliament”.
She added: “If MPs vote against the second reading of this Bill they are voting to stop Brexit.
“If they do so the consequences could hardly be greater – reject this deal and leaving the EU with a negotiated deal any time soon will be dead in the water and what would we do then?
“… If not no-deal then it would have to be a general election or a second referendum that could lead to revocation and no Brexit at all.”
The SNP again raised that the PM had not made the speech direct to the Commons.
On the prospect of a second referendum, Mrs May said: “I recognise the genuine and sincere strength of feeling across the House on this important issue.
“The Government will therefore include in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill at introduction a requirement to vote on whether to hold a second referendum and this must take place before the Withdrawal Agreement can be ratified.”
Mrs May said a failure to reach agreement on Brexit would lead to a “nightmare future of permanently polarised politics”.
She also spoke about workers’ rights – one of the issues discussed with Labour during the cross-party talks – saying: “We will introduce a new Workers Rights Bill to ensure UK workers enjoy rights that are every bit as good as, or better than, those provided for by EU rules.
“And we will discuss further amendments with trade unions and businesses.”
The Prime Minister said her Withdrawal Agreement Bill will include a vote on whether to hold a second referendum.
There was immediate reaction from MPs, with Conserative Simon Clarke tweeting that it was outrageous:
Mrs May also said the Government will commit in law to let Parliament decide on the customs issue.
Mrs May said her new Brexit deal had “listened to Unionist concerns” about the Irish backstop.
“So the new Brexit deal goes further,” she said. “It will commit that should the backstop come into force the Government will commit to ensure that Great Britain will stay aligned with Northern Ireland.
“We will prohibit the proposal that a future government could split Northern Ireland off from the UK’s customs territory.”
Mrs May said: “The new Brexit deal will set out in law that the House of Commons would approve the UK’s objectives for the negotiations on our future relations with the EU.
“And they will approve the treaties governing that relationship before the Government signs them.”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford also said the speech should have been made directly to the House of Commons, tweeting: “Why is the Prime Minister making a speech about a so called new Brexit deal away from Parliament. This is a breech of responsibility.
“Any such statement should be made in Parliament, quite simply this is treating Parliament with contempt. This is not good enough.”
The Prime Minister said there is “one last chance” to help MPs deliver the result of the 2016 referendum, as she offered her “new Brexit deal”.
She confirmed her latest Brexit deal will seek to conclude alternative arrangements for the Irish backstop by December 2020.
At a speech in Westminster, she said: “Although it’s not possible for (alternative arrangements) to replace the backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement, we can start the work now to ensure they are a viable alternative.
“So as part of the new Brexit deal we will place the Government under a legal obligation to seek to conclude alternative arrangements by December 2020 so that we can avoid any need for the backstop coming into force.”
Mrs May began her speech just after 4pm, recounting her efforts over the past two years to achieve Brexit.
As she began, the Labour’s whips office tweeted that it was a shame she had not made it in Parliament, adding: “presumably because she knows her warring Cabinet & party would clearly give away that they don’t support her”.