Guardian News and Media/London
Downing Street has hinted that the Commons vote on the withdrawal agreement bill will be make or break for Theresa May’s future as prime minister, as a member of her Cabinet said defeat could kill off the deal entirely.
No 10 said the key piece of Brexit legislation would be voted on in the week beginning June 3, and talks with Labour would continue in the meantime.
May’s spokesman declined to confirm explicitly that the prime minister would see it as the last act of her premiership if she were to lose the vote at the bill’s second reading, but said May understood its significance.
“Clearly the significance of this piece of legislation can’t and I suspect won’t be underestimated,” the spokesman said. “The absolute determination and focus of the government will be to get this thing through and passed.”
Speaking to the Lords EU select committee, Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, suggested the vote would be the final throw of the dice for the deal negotiated with the EU’s Michel Barnier.
“I think if the House of Commons does not approve the (bill) then the Barnier deal is dead in that form and I think the house will have to then address a much more fundamental question between whether it will pursue … a no-deal option or whether it will revoke,” he said.
May faces a punishing week when the Commons returns from recess, including the vote on the withdrawal bill, a three-day visit from Donald Trump and the Peterborough byelection, a tightly contested seat being fought by the Tories, Labour and the Brexit party.
No 10 would not put a timeframe on publishing the bill, which MPs would expect to happen before the Whitsun recess at the end of next week, but it insisted the vote would happen that week.
“We want to make progress as quickly as possible but we are talking about getting a significant bill which has lots of clauses through both houses of parliament, and we have to allow due time. It’s not possible to give a firm prediction of how long that will take,” the spokesman said.
David Jones, a former Brexit minister and member of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs, told the BBC’s World at One programme a defeat would be the end of the road for this government’s strategy.
“I think actually that No 10 now realise that once this has been introduced, if it is rejected, that is the end of the government’s strategy, and it is really high-stakes politics,” he said.
Jones said May had staked her “personal prestige” on the withdrawal agreement. “She’s had three rebuffs now, and I think it’s very hard to see where she goes after a further rebuff if the bill, when it’s rejected, can’t be reintroduced. If that bill is rejected then it seems to me the whole policy is dead and can’t be pursued any further.”
A spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn confirmed Labour would not support the withdrawal agreement bill unless a cross-party deal was reached. “There is no agreement and we need the government to make further moves,” the spokesman said.
“Without an agreement and real compromise and movement by the government coming out of these talks then we are talking about a withdrawal agreement bill that is based on the same botched Brexit deal that has been rejected three times already by parliament.”
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