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May suffers fresh defeat over Brexit plans

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May suffers fresh defeat over Brexit plans
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Theresa May suffered a fresh Brexit defeat on Wednesday when MPs called for any plan-B options to be quickly presented if her deal is defeated next week.

The UK parliament voted 308 to 297 in favour of a three-day period to present next steps on Brexit if the prime minister's divorce deal with the EU is rebuffed.

The government was expecting to have more time to come up with alternatives but MPs have now signalled their concern with the UK set to leave the bloc at the end of March.

Earlier on Wednesday, May took her first questions of 2019 in the House of Commons.

This was followed by a lengthy Brexit debate between Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Stephen Barclay, and members of the chamber.

Here is how it happened.

May and Corbyn clash

Jeremy Corbyn joined the PM in paying tribute to the late Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, and also joined the PM in supporting journalists and politicians in making a "safe space" for political debate.

Corbyn began the session by raising the question "Isn't the Prime Minister bringing back exactly the same deal she admitted would be defeated four weeks ago?"

Prime Minister Theresa May responded by saying the government published a package of commitments that give Northern Ireland a strong voice and role in any decision to bring the backstop into effect.

May: "We have also been looking into how Parliament can take a bigger role in the event that our future relationship will not be ready by the end of 2020. Parliament will have vote as to whether to extend the implementation period or bring the backstop into effect."

Corbyn: "No amount of window dressing is going to satisfy members of this House. They want to see clear, legal changes to the document the government previously presented."

May: Mr Corbyn can say "what he likes" about no-deal but that he "opposes any deal that the Government has negotiated".

May added that the only way to stop no-deal is to back her deal.

The Prime Minister then took a swipe at the Labour leader by saying if he is uncertain about what she is saying he "might like to use a lip reader". A reference to Corbyn's potential utterance of the words "stupid women" during an exchange late last year.

Corbyn responded by asking if "changes will be made to the legally binding withdrawal agreement itself"?

Can't have it both ways

Corbyn also asked the Prime Minister if she will rule out a "no-deal" scenario.

"I've made it clear to the right honourable gentleman that if we want to avoid no-deal he has to back a deal, back the deal - but he stands there and complains about spending money on no-deal preparations. He can't have it both ways - either we are doing too much or too little. So perhaps he can break his usual habit and give us a decision - which is it?" asked May.

Corbyn responded with quite a sting. "This is the first time since 1978 that a Prime Minister has been defeated on the Finance Bill," he retorted.

He said the House made it clear that "no-deal should be ruled out".

Nothing changes

"The PM spent the last week begging for warm words from EU leaders and achieved nothing. Not one dot or comma has changed. The Prime Minister has "squandered millions of pounds of money" on preparing for no-deal," said Corbyn.

Corbyn asked if May will "do the right thing" and call a general election should she lose the vote.

"No," countered May, "We have put a good deal on the table to protects jobs and security," adding that she still didn't know what Brexit plan Corbyn is bringing to the table.

More questions for May

Following the intense exchange with Corbyn, May said that the only way to prevent no-deal is supporting her deal and also stated she will not call a general election should her deal not be passed by Parliament.

If May's deal is not passed, asked Labour's Stephen Kinnock, will there be a vote on a range of possible options.

The PM said that she is working for a "positive" result in the vote.

Pete Wishart of the Scottish Nationalists said the PM's deal "is as dead as the deadest dodo," and asked her why she does not "just go".

May then defended her deal, stating it delivers on the referendum.

"I want us to leave the European Union on the 29th of March with the good deal that is on the table," she maintained.

Ian Blackford, of the SNP, described Mrs May's Brexit vote last year as "doomed".

"When will the PM face the facts that there is little support for her deal or no-deal in this House?" asked Blackford. He added the PM is "frozen in failure."

May reiterated her stance that if Blackford and others do not want a "no-deal" scenario, they will have to back the current and only deal that the PM has set forth.

Brexit debate: Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union - Stephen Barclay

Barclay reinforced the Prime Minister's stance that the current deal is the best deal to recognise the referendum result.

He cited progress such as the UK government paper published today (Wednesday) which offers reassurances to Northern Ireland about the Brexit backstop.

The paper states that no new areas of EU law would be applied in a backstop scenario without seeking the agreement of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It also ensures unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the Great Britain economy.

Barclay said that whatever the outcome of the vote, the government is prepared to respond rapidly.

"Any deal put into place, requires a winding down of our 45-year relationship with the European Union," said Barclay. "Therefore it requires a withdrawal agreement and therefore requires a backstop."

He went on to say the current withdrawal agreement addresses many key issues such as protection citizen's rights, both in the UK and those living throughout the EU.

Barclay also said the agreement guarantees an implementation period and enables the UK to preserve peace and ensure commitments made in the Belfast agreements 20 years ago.

MPs from Nothern Ireland responded by saying the proposed backdrop will forcibly remove Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK and cut them off from the UK negotiated trade agreements.

Scottish MPs followed this claim by saying the current government has shown more respect to Ireland in this deal than those "stuck with Westminster."

Labour MP Sir Keir Starmer - Shadow Brexit Secretary

Starmer criticised Barclay's support of the proposed deal by expressing concerns that the document does not contain any new commitments since May delayed the vote in December.

Starmer said that the proposed deal brings together prior unilateral commitments into one document, but does not detail any new material.