The fate of the EU withdrawal agreement remained uncertain after Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker secured legally-binding and mutually acceptable changes in a last-minute meeting before Tuesday’s key vote.
The meeting in Strasbourg led to a series of documents published in London and Brussels on what is called a “joint legally-binding instrument”, which is intended not to “trap the UK indefinitely” in the controversial Ireland-Northern Ireland ‘backstop’.
The late-night developments prompted a series of reactions as MPs and ministers prepared to debate on May’s improved package to be introduced in the House of Commons on Tuesday, with voting scheduled in the evening.
Leader o the opposition Jeremy Corbyn said: “This evening’s agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes Theresa May promised Parliament, and whipped her MPs to vote for”.
“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 tomorrow”.
MPs said they would wait for the attorney-general to present his opinion before deciding on voting for the agreement or not. There was little indication on Monday night that minds had been changed in the wake of the new developments.
The agreement was resoundingly voted down in January on the issue of the ‘backstop’ is intended to avoid a hard border between Ireland (EU state and Northern Ireland (part of UK, but many see it as an EU ploy to keep in the UK within the customs union and the single market.
May said after meeting Juncker: “The attorney general will set out in legal analysis the meaning of the joint instrument and unilateral declaration to Parliament. Tomorrow, the House of Commons will debate the improved deal that these legal changes have created”.
“I will speak in more detail about them when I open that debate. MPs were clear that legal changes were needed to the backstop. Today we have secured legal changes. Now is the time to come together, to back this improved Brexit deal, and to deliver on the instruction of the British people.”