Theresa May bids to save her Brexit deal but loses more MPs' support

21 May 2019, 18:54 | Updated: 21 May 2019, 22:53

Theresa May has launched a last-ditch bid to save her Brexit deal, but ended up losing more MPs' support.

The prime minister unveiled a 10-point plan to "seek common ground in parliament", including giving MPs another vote on a second referendum and giving the Commons a bigger say in the next step of negotiations with Brussels.

In what could be her last major speech on leaving the EU, she admitted it was "patently obvious" she had not managed to end the Conservatives' battle over Europe and appeared to acknowledge her departure from Downing Street was imminent.

What the PM pitched to win over MPs:

:: Attempt to find alternative arrangements to replace backstop by December 2020
:: If that fails, Britain will stay aligned with Northern Ireland
:: Future relationship objectives to be approved by MPs
:: Workers rights, environmental protections and border checks rules on goods to keep pace with EU
:: Seek as close to frictionless trade as possible
:: MPs to get vote on customs compromise and another referendum

Bidding to win over wavering Labour MPs, she announced new workers' rights and environmental protections would be built into the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB).

That is the piece of legislation that would pave the way for a Brexit deal becoming law.

She also promised a customs union compromise and a commitment to finding a way to replace the Northern Irish backstop by the end of 2020.

The backstop has been one of the most controversial parts of her deal that would ensure no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.

But her plea to MPs to back the WAB when parliament votes on it in June was dismissed instantly by Labour, Conservative backbenchers and the government's confidence and supply partners - the DUP.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, chair of the Tory Brexiteer lobbying group known as the European Research Group, called the proposals "worse than before" and pushed for a no-deal divorce from the EU.

He and multiple other MPs who say they reluctantly backed Mrs May deal at the second or third vote in parliament suggested they would withdraw their support next time.

One called Mrs May's speech "f****** awful" and predicted to Sky News she would be on course for a defeat of 150 votes.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn confirmed that unless the PM gave more concessions, his party would not support the deal.

He said there was no substantive movement on a customs union, consumer rights and food standards.

Mr Corbyn added there was a "question of the deliverability of it" given Mrs May was likely to be replaced soon.

Quizzed on her future at the speech at PWC in central London on Tuesday, Mrs May said questions about who would replace her now she has promised to name a departure date after the WAB vote was "last week's news".

She refused to answer Sky News' question about whether she wanted to see a Brexiteer get the keys to Number 10 Downing Street to help ease the Conservatives' infighting.

Britain is on course to leave the EU with no-deal on 31 October, or earlier if parliament ratifies a deal before then.

The Tory leadership race has unofficially kicked off, but is expected to begin properly when Mrs May says when she plans to step down.

It was touched on by the prime minister in her speech, when she said in a moment of personal reflection that "I offered to give up the job I love earlier than I would like".

Analysis: PM's Brexit promises have done little to convince MPs

By Kate McCann, political correspondent

"This speech isn't part of a box-set", the prime minister's spokesman told journalists, just hours before Theresa May took to the stage for a speech that felt very much like the final episode in a long-running series.

Standing in the atrium of a business in central London, watched on by six floors of workers who she occasionally looked up at almost pleadingly, Mrs May said she had "tried everything" to get her deal through.

"I offered to give up the job I love earlier than I would like," she said in a rare moment of personal reflection.

MPs were already frustrated that the prime minister had chosen to make her new Brexit offer in an office block instead of in the House of Commons and some were not cheered by the changes she outlined.

One Conservative MP who previously backed Mrs May tweeted he would not be supporting the Withdrawal Agreement Bill again before she had even sat down.

At the heart of the new offer is a set of 10 changes, carefully designed to address concerns on both the Remain and Brexit supporting sides of the fence.

The problem is that in trying to please both sides, Mrs May could end up pleasing nobody at all.

Her offer of a vote on a second referendum if MPs support her bill through the initial stages in parliament might appeal to Labour MPs who want the chance to reverse Brexit, but it is a red line many Conservatives will not cross.

Likewise, offering close alignment on goods and agri-foods may help persuade those who are worried about the Northern Irish border but it will do nothing for MPs who fear the UK will be so closely tied that independent trade deals will be impossible.

She urged MPs to look carefully at the new deal and read the bill before setting their faces against it.

"I have compromised, I ask others to compromise too," she said, warning that the British people will not suffer the "corrosive" debate around Brexit for much longer.

But just minutes after the speech, Steve Baker, one of those Mrs May really must convince, branded it "muddled" - while the Liberal Democrats said the second referendum offer does not go far enough.

"The biggest problem with Britain today is its politics," Mrs May warned.

The problem is many of her MPs do not agree; they think the biggest problem is the prime minister herself.