Theresa May has faced an angry backlash after ordering Tory MPs to vote against a motion that clearly rules out a no-deal Brexit.
The prime minister had promised to give her MPs a free vote on the issue but later said Conservatives would be told to vote against an amendment tabled by Tory backbencher Caroline Spelman.
Ms Spelman’s amendment is clearer in its opposition to no deal than the government’s motion, which suggests that the only way to avoid leaving without an agreement is to vote for Ms May’s plan.
During another day of chaos in Westminster, No10 said Tory MPs would only be allowed a free vote on the government motion and another amendment that would lead to a no-deal Brexit, and not on Ms Spelman’s motion.
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Sir Keir Starmer – the shadow Brexit secretary – is now responding to Gove. He says it is a serious debate, and one that is long overdue.
He adds he wanted to see the “mantra of my deal or no deal… dead and buried” in the vote later this evening.
He said: “On this side of the House we have never accepted there should be a binary choice between the Prime Minister’s deal or no deal. Between very bad or even worse is not a meaningful choice and it would be a very sorry end to the negotiations.
“Yesterday the House overwhelmingly voted to reject the first of those options, the Prime Minister’s deal. Today we have the chance to reject the second and we should do so with as big a majority as possible.
“The mantra of ‘my deal or no deal’ needs to be dead and buried tonight.”
Gove claims the agreement put before the House last night was “significantly” different from the one in January – a remark that triggers a fair amount of laughter in the chamber.
During the debate, Gove warns there could be a real risk of “direct rule” for Northern Ireland under a no-deal scenario – considering there has been no functioning executive in the country for the last two years.
The environment secretary confirms that the prime minister’s motion does not take no deal off the table – as the default position, in law, as it stands is to leave the European Union on 29 March.
Anna Soubry – the new Independent Group MP and ex Conservative – says this admission means MPs are not being given what they asked for.
On a no-deal scenario, Gove adds the country would “endure” and pays tribute to civil servants working around the clock to prepare for such a situation.
Environment secretary Michael Gove is now opening the debate on no deal – just hours before MPs vote on the scenario. He starts off with a somewhat gushing tribute to the prime minister who “always puts country first”.
“She has throughout this process shown fortitude, tenacity, thoughtfulness, diligence and above all an unselfish and unstinting patriotism.”
Due to a sore throat which is causing her problems with her voice, Theresa May has not opened the debate as planned.
The prime minister’s defeat was covered extensively on the continent, with half of the front page of France’s Liberation newspaper given to a picture of Ms May with the caption: “Back to square one.”
“Is it the end? The end of Brexit but above all the end of Theresa May?” the newspaper asked in its analysis.
The Netherlands’ NRC said: “May’s new defeat is so big that there is no negotiator left in Brussels who still believes that concessions to her will yield a majority in the House of Commons.”
Responding to the Spring Statement, Edwin Morgan, interim director general of the Institute of Directors, says:“Warm words and proposed consultations are not enough for businesses at a time when confidence is rock bottom and investment plans are eroding away, and many will find it difficult to tread water until more decisive action at the Autumn Budget.
“While a ‘no deal’ would wreak certain havoc for many firms, we must also avoid being lulled into thinking an exit deal alone is a substitute for providing a real economic impetus that lowers costs, spurs productivity growth, and supports businesses as they adjust to Brexit, whatever its form. Indeed, the fact that the OBR lowered its forecast for GDP growth this year – based on a smooth exit from the EU – highlights just how much the economy is set to fall below its potential, even in a relatively benign scenario.”
Brexit has long come to resemble the messy ending of a long though loveless marriage, replete with resentment and self-perpetuating recriminations.
A British six-year-old, however, may have done more than any one of the numerous negotiators to show the power of quiet diplomacy and sincere affection as opposed to hostility and vitriol.
A supremely heartfelt letter, sent to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, and shared on his Instagram account, revealed a distinctly softer side to British demands for a close future partnership.
During his statement, the chancellor also talked about “building a consensus” across the House of Commons for a deal “we can collectively support” to press forward with Brexit.
This is not exactly the government line – considering Downing Street and Theresa May have shown no sign of dropping her current agreement and rejected descriptions of it being “dead”.
Instead, Mr Hammond here appears to be calling for a cross-party consensus on a UK-EU agreement – and one that could command the support of a majority of MPs.
Of course is something Jeremy Corbyn has called for – and involves an agreement on a customs union. It would never be acceptable for the Conservative Eurosceptics, and if the PM went down this road, she would in all likelihood split her party.
John McDonnell attacks the government for breaking the “historic link between securing a job and taking yourself out of poverty”.
This government has created a “large-scale jobs market of low pay, long hours and precarious work”, he says, adding that average wages are still below where they were ten years ago and 4.5 million children are living in poverty.
The chancellor slashed the UK’s growth forecast for this year, as he warned MPs his pledge to end austerity would be in tatters if they continue to block a Brexit deal.
Delivering a low-key spring statement, Mr Hammond sought to ram home the message that more cash for public services and tax cuts would only flow if a no-deal Brexit is avoided. Promising a “deal dividend”, he
Responding to this statement, the shadow chancellor John McDonnell says we have just witnessed a toxic callousness over the government’s disregard for austerity in the UK.
“The chancellor turns up today with no real end or reversal of austerity – and to threaten us: that austerity can only end if we accept the government’s [Brexit] deal.”
A downgraded forecast is a pattern under this chancellor, McDonnell says.
He says the chancellor has shifted the deficit on the backs of public sector workers.
Police budgets have faced a cut of £2.7bn since 2010, McDonnell says, claiming nothing in the budget makes up for the human cost of this.
Benefit freezes and the rollout of universal credit are forcing people into food banks to survive, the shadow chancellor adds.
One million pensioners are living in severe poverty.
“A government condemned by the UN for inflicting destitution on its citizens.
“And there’s nothing balanced about a government investing £4155 per head in London on transport, and the North only £1600.”
Hammond says the economy is fundamentally robust, but the uncertainty still hangs over it. “It is damaging the economy – and our standing in the world,” he says.
We have huge opportunities ahead of us, he says. “We have shown we are not shy as a nation of the challenges ahead of us.
“Our potential is clear – our advantages are manifest. A brighter future is within our grasp – tonight lets seize it.”
Hammond says he has decided to fund free sanitary products in secondary schools from 2020.
On climate change, the chancellor says the UK is already leading the world with ambitious targets. The Treasury trailed the climate change part of Mr Hammond’s speech at the weekend:
The Chancellor announces some actual spending with £260m pledged for the borderlands region of Southern Scotland and the North of England. Negotiations are underway for deals for Wales and for Derry, he says.
He takes a pop at the opposition after putting an end to “Labour’s discredited PFI” and says there will be a consultation on how to replace PFI contracts.
He announces Americans, Australians and South Koreans to be allowed to use our e-gates at airports after Brexit, as he repeats the governments aim to end free movement from the EU.
Earlier, chancellor Philip Hammond used his Spring Statement to downgrade growth forecasts and warn MPs that uncertainty over Brexit was damaging the economy.
Under a temporary and unilateral regime, EU goods arriving from the Republic of Ireland and remaining in Northern Ireland will not be subject to tariffs – a prospect likely to increase the risk UK jobs would be lost. Charges will however be payable on goods moving from the EU into the rest of the UK via Northern Ireland under a schedule of rates also released today.
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