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Brexit: Theresa May defends deal amid criticism from MPs

Media captionTheresa May on Northern Ireland backstop: “This is an insurance policy on-one wants to use.”

Theresa May has defended her proposed Brexit deal in the Commons in the face of sustained criticism from the opposition and many Conservative MPs.

The PM said Sunday’s agreement honoured the 2016 referendum vote and maintained a close partnership with the EU.

But she admitted she was not “entirely happy” with the “backstop” contingency plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

Jeremy Corbyn said “ploughing on” with a deal opposed by the public and MPs was an “act of national self-harm”.

The Labour leader suggested Parliament would have “little choice” but to reject the deal when MPs vote on it – expected to be in a fortnight’s time.

And a host of former cabinet ministers, including Iain Duncan Smith, Boris Johnson, Owen Paterson, Michael Fallon and Dominic Grieve, also said the deal was unsatisfactory.

Cabinet ministers have accepted that Mrs May faces an uphill struggle in persuading Parliament to accept the terms of the UK withdrawal and a political declaration on future relations.

In her statement to MPs, Mrs May said there had been “give and take” in the 19-month negotiations but the final agreement “delivered for the British people” by regaining control of laws, money and borders.

She acknowledged concerns over arrangements to avoid the return of physical checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which could see the UK entering a customs arrangement with the EU.

Media captionJeremy Corbyn: “Even the prime minister’s own cabinet can’t bring themselves to sell this deal.”

She said the backstop was an “insurance policy that no-one wants to use” and insisted the UK would have the right to determine whether it came into force if the UK’s future relationship was not settled by the end of 2020, as she hoped it would.

She said it would be a temporary mechanism and the UK would have the right to seek arbitration over how and when it would end, if it was not “superseded” by a trade deal or other arrangements.

A backstop of some kind would be required, she said, due to the UK’s obligation to uphold the Good Friday Agreement, adding “there is no deal that comes without a backstop and without a backstop there is no deal”.

‘Huge gamble’

She said she had stood firm in the face of repeated EU attempts to link access to British waters for their fishermen to future trade arrangements.

“They failed in the Withdrawal Agreement, and they failed again in the Political Declaration,” she said.

“It is no surprise some are already trying to lay down markers again for the future relationship, but they should be getting used to the answer by now: it is not going to happen.”

Mrs May apologised for language she used in her CBI speech last week, about EU nationals in the UK, when she said her Brexit deal would stop EU migrants “jumping the queue”.

She also appeared to questioned the validity of economic analysis on Brexit, saying while the government would publish an assessment of the impact of her deal, compared with staying in the EU, she was not sure to what degree economic forecasts could be regarded as facts.

The Labour leader said Mrs May had brought home a “botched deal that was a bad deal for the country” and that “ploughing on is not stoic, it is an act of national self-harm”.

He said the prime minister needed a “plan B” involving a permanent customs arrangement and stronger employment and environmental protections.

Media captionTheresa May: “We are proud Gibraltar is British and our position on sovereignty has not, and will not, change.”

Tory backbencher Mark Francois urged the PM to think again, claiming the agreement was “as dead as a dodo” and “would not get through” Parliament.

“The House of Commons has never surrendered to anyone,” he said. “It won’t start now”.

And former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon, previously regarded as a loyalist, said it would be a “huge gamble” for the UK to “surrender our vote and our veto without any firm commitment to frictionless trade” outside the EU.

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it was “hard to see” how the deal could provide certainty to business when cabinet ministers were saying different things.

The SNP’s Iain Blackford said the agreement was “full of ifs and buts” which would result in Scottish fishermen being “sold out” while the Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable called for another referendum.

And the DUP’s Nigel Dodds said the backstop “was bad for the union and bad for the economy” and greater certainty was needed over its legal application.

Brexit: Theresa May defends deal amid criticism from MPs}

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