British MPs warned 'accept backstop or no Brexit' as Theresa May's deal defeated again

Theresa May speaking in the House of Commons, London, after the British government's Brexit deal was rejected by 391 votes to 242 
Rebecca Black, Press Association

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood has warned the British parliament it must accept the backstop or risk no Brexit at all after Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement was defeated in the House of Commons tonight.

Speaking after MPs voted by 391 to 242 against the deal, Mr Eastwood expressed disappointment at the vote but said Westminster will "have to accept the backstop at some point".

"Sooner or later, the British parliament is going to have to support a backstop for Northern Ireland or else support no Brexit at all - there is no happy medium between these two eventualities," he said.

"The bottom line is that the backstop, aside from scrapping Brexit entirely, is our only insurance policy against a hard border.

"Until MPs accept this reality, Article 50 should be extended to avoid us crashing out of the EU without a deal."

UUP MEP Jim Nicholson said the defeat of Theresa May's Brexit deal should come as no surprise.

The DUP, which props up Mrs May's Conservative Party in the House of Commons, had indicated its 10 MPs would vote against her proposed Withdrawal Deal.

Speaking after the vote, the veteran European Parliamentarian claimed the defeat should come as no surprise as there were "no meaningful changes" to the deal.

He also called for Brexit to be delayed.

"In reality, the joint instrument and the joint statement are nothing but legal gymnastics to try to paper over the cracks," he said.

"It made the division in the House of Commons a Meaningful Vote on meaningless changes.

"We want a deal but we want a good deal - a deal that will not compromise the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.

"It is in the best interests of the EU and UK to use their best efforts to work towards a workable deal, in order to avoid a no deal Brexit.

"Calm heads are needed now and a short technical extension should be seriously considered."


Business groups in Northern Ireland have expressed frustration at the lack of agreement over a Brexit deal.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said: "We have no indication of customs, tariffs, documentation or checks that will be in effect on day one and we are no clearer as to the status of the border.

"There are no winners in a no-deal Brexit that systematically disintegrates the supply chains of these islands.

"Politicians of all shades must put people before politics and economics before ideology to find an agreement that can pass a vote. We need a deal."

Roger Pollen from the Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland said the defeat has "further heightened uncertainty".

"For small businesses, they just want to know what economic environment they will face after March 29," he said.

"A cliff-edge Brexit is in no-one's interest so despite tonight's setback an agreement must be reached to avoid it."

Glyn Roberts, of Retail NI, said: "An extension to Article 50 needs to happen to allow time for meaningful talks between the government and the opposition parties.

"The House of Commons needs to state very clearly that a no-deal is off the agenda.

"Crashing out of the EU without a deal would be disastrous for our retail sector, causing delays in the supply chain, food shortages and potential higher prices for consumers.

"Every element of the Northern Ireland business community, trade unions and voluntary sector is speaking with one very clear voice on Brexit - we need a deal."

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