Jeremy Corbyn (pictured at his London home this morning) has criticised the changes Theresa May has secured to her Brexit deal
Mr Corbyn tweeted: ‘The Prime Minister’s negotiations have failed. Last night’s agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes Theresa May promised Parliament, and whipped her MPs to vote for.’
The Prime Minister last night announced ‘legally binding changes’ to the controversial Irish border backstop after a dramatic dash to Strasbourg and last-minute talks with Jean-Claude Juncker.
In a second tweet, Mr Corbyn repeated his familiar refrain that Mrs May had been ‘running down the clock’ to March 29.
‘Since her Brexit deal was so overwhelmingly rejected, the Prime Minister has recklessly run down the clock, failed to effectively negotiate with the EU and refused to find common ground for a deal Parliament could support. That’s why MPs must reject this deal.’
Mrs May will hope the changes to her deal will be enough to win backing for her plan from rebel Tory Brexiteers and the DUP in the meaningful vote tonight and secure Britain’s exit from the EU on March 29.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer (left) has warned the changes Mrs May has secured to the backstop may not be enough for Attorney General Geoffrey Cox to alter his legal advice. Both men are pictured in Westminster today
Its fate hangs on legal scrutiny by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and a ‘Star Chamber’ of Brexiteer lawyers convened by the European Research Group (ERG) of MPs.
But shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer – an eminent lawyer – said he would be ‘surprised’ if the Attorney General was able to change his advice on the deal.
Mr Cox’s advice on the previous version of the deal could not rule out being trapped ‘indefinitely’ in the backstop, the set of measures which would tie the UK closely to Brussels’ rules and tariffs in order to avoid a hard border with Ireland.
Sir Keir, who called for Mr Cox to face MPs in the Commons, said: ‘Having studied the documents, I would be surprised if they are sufficient to enable the Attorney General to change the central plank of his December legal advice.’
The changes did not include ‘a mechanism for unilateral exit from – or termination of – the backstop’.
Meanwhile, Mr Cox dismissed as ‘bollocks’ a suggestion that he had been pressured into finding a way to change his legal advice.
Mrs May secured the changes after a last-ditch meeting with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in Strasbourg last night
Labour MP Owen Smith tweeted an image of the latest printed version of the Withdrawal Agreement alongside the one rejected by MPs in January.
He wrote: ‘The “new Withdrawal Agreement” is half the size of the “old” one! Not a single word in it has changed… but they’ve pathetically altered the pagination to make it look different.
‘The perfect symbol of Theresa May’s contrick Brexit,’ he added.
Mr Smith said he would vote against Brexit because it was ‘voted for by a small majority of the people, but it will make all our people poorer’. Labour should have opposed Brexit ‘from the start’, he said.
Mrs May will need at least 40 Labour Brexiteers to vote for her deal tonight along with the DUP group of 10 MPs and 65 ERG rebels.
What is the new Brexit deal announced by Mrs May?
What are the changes to the deal?
There are three new documents that are now part of the divorce package – on top of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the Future Relationship.
None of the new documents change either of the two main ones agreed in November and which were defeated by 230 votes on January 15.
The new documents are:
What do the changes mean?
May’s deputy David Lidington said they ‘strengthen and improve’ the deal and amount to ‘legally binding changes’.
The Attorney General is due to produce new legal advice today. This will be published so MPs can see if there is any change.
Much will depend on whether he reverses his advice the backstop could last forever in the absence of a UK-EU trade deal that keeps open the Irish border.
Do the changes actually change the divorce deal?
They do not change either document agreed by Theresa May in November and voted on by MPs in January. Both the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration stand unamended.
May says the new documents have the same ‘legal weight’ as the original deal and effectively improve it from the outside.
Will they persuade Tory rebels?
It is too soon to tell. Tory hardliners will pass the documents to a group of their own lawyers and they will make a decision today.
The so-called ‘Cash Council’ includes eight lawyers, seven of whom are current MPs and leading Eurosceptic. The group includes DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds.
The DUP itself issued a measured response tonight, vowing to study the new documents closely.
What is the vote today?
May is holding a new vote on whether or not to approve her deal today. Passing it is an essential part of making the deal law.
Technically the vote has to happen at some point because of the law in Section 13 of the EU Withdrawal Action 2018.
It is a repeat of the vote she held and lost by a record-breaking 230 votes on January 13.
What will MPs vote on?
The Government has tabled a motion that broadly says MPs ‘approve’ the deal.
The motion refer to five documents that now make up the deal – including the three new documents about the backstop.
Both the motion and the documents had to be tabled in Parliament yesterday, before the Commons finished for the night.
Can it be amended?
Yes. MPs can re-write the motion to say they ‘approve’ the deal subject to conditions, or to say they ‘decline to approve’ it for whatever reason.
Can May amend it?
Yes, potentially. May could table an amendment to her own motion or endorse an amendment tabled by a friendly backbench MP if the new agreements look set to fail.
Why would she do that?
An amendment could be used to send a political signal to Brussels on what is needed to pass the motion unamended.
It would probably mean a third vote was needed – but this is legally ambiguous and appears to have been ruled out as an option by Juncker anyway.