Davis forced to do U-turn on claims MPs will not get to vote on Brexit deal

Brexit secretary David Davis gives evidence on developments in European Union divorce talks to the Commons Exiting the EU Committee in Portcullis House, London yesterday PICTURE: PA
David Hughes, Sam Lister and Gavin Cordon

BREXIT Secretary David Davis has been forced to row back on claims MPs may only be given a vote on the deal pulling Britain out of the European Union after the country had left the bloc.

Downing Street insisted the prime minister had "full confidence" in her Brexit secretary after his department issued a clarification to insist the government expects MPs to be given a vote before the March 2019 departure date.

But critics said the sequence of events showed "chaos" and a "shambles" at the heart of Theresa May's government.

Mr Davis had said he expected negotiations to go on until the last minute of the final day before the UK leaves and Parliament would not get a say until the agreement was secured.

But Mrs May later appeared to contradict Mr Davis, telling MPs she was "confident" a deal would be secured in time for it to go before MPs.

Officials in the Department for Exiting the European Union then issued a statement clarifying the Brexit secretary's comments, claiming they were in response to "hypothetical scenarios".

A spokesman for Mr Davis said: "We are working to reach an agreement on the final deal in good time before we leave the EU in March 2019.

"Once the deal is agreed we will meet our long-standing commitment to a vote in both Houses and we expect and intend this to be before the vote in the European Parliament and therefore before we leave."

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the contradictory statements from Mrs May and Mr Davis had added to the "confusion and chaos over the government's approach to the Brexit negotiations".

Pat McFadden, a Labour supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign said: "This U-turn exposes another self-created shambles in government over Brexit."

Mr Davis has warned that Brussels' negotiating track record meant talks would be pushed to the 11th hour, but suggested it would be "very exciting for everybody watching".

"It's no secret that the way the union makes its decision tends to be at the 59th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day and so on, and that is precisely what I would expect to happen," he told the Commons committee on Exiting the EU.

"If there is a time limit on a negotiation the union stops the clock, it assumes that it's still at 11:59 until it is concluded, sometimes over the course of 24, 36, 72 hours thereafter, and that's what I imagine it will be.

"And it will be a lot of pressure, very high stress, very exciting for everybody watching."

Much of the withdrawal agreement, which is focused on citizens' rights, UK-Ireland border, and the divorce bill, will only be agreed when the future relationship between the UK and EU is signed off, he said.

"My hunch on this is it will be co-terminus in terms of agreement, not quite in terms of signing, with the forward relationship," he told the committee.

Pressed on whether that meant a vote in Parliament on the deal could be after March 2019, he replied: "It could be, yes, it could be."

"Well, it can't come before we have the deal."

But just over an hour later, Mrs May struck a markedly different tone during Prime Minister's Questions.

She told the Commons: "The timetable under the Lisbon Treaty does give time until March 2019 for the negotiations to take place, but I am confident because it is in the interests of both sides, and it is not just this Parliament that wants to have a vote on that deal, but actually there will be ratification by other parliaments, that we will be able to achieve that agreement and that negotiation in time for this Parliament to have the vote that we committed to."

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