Theresa May to hold further talks with MPs on backstop

Prime Minister Theresa may makes a statement to MPs in the House of Commons, London on her new Brexit motion PICTURE: PA
By Andrew Woodcock, Press Association Political Editor

THERESA May has warned that a second EU referendum could "damage social cohesion", as she set out plans to find a Brexit deal that could win parliamentary support.

The prime minister said she would conduct further talks on the controversial Brexit backstop, and promised to give Parliament "a proper say" in negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and EU.

But she refused to rule out a no-deal Brexit, and insisted that there was no majority in the House of Commons for a so-called People's Vote.

In a statement to the Commons, Mrs May acknowledged that last week's emphatic rejection of her Withdrawal Agreement by MPs meant that the government's approach to Brexit had to change. And she insisted that it had.

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She announced she was scrapping a £65 fee for EU nationals wanting to remain in the UK after Brexit, promised to guarantee workers' rights and environmental safeguards and said she would continue talks to find "the broadest possible consensus" on the way forward.

Mrs May said that the government had conducted cross-party talks since her Commons defeat in a "constructive spirit", and regretted Jeremy Corbyn's decision to boycott them.

But Mr Corbyn dismissed the talks as "a PR sham", telling MPs: "The prime minister must change her red lines, because her current deal is undeliverable."

And the Labour chairman of the Commons Exiting the EU Committee, Hilary Benn – who has been pushing for a series of indicative votes on Brexit options, said: "I am sorry to say while her door may have been open, her mind has remained closed."

Mrs May set her face firmly against a People's Vote, warning MPs: "There has not yet been enough recognition of the way that a second referendum could damage social cohesion by undermining faith in our democracy."

She said she did not believe there was a majority in the Commons for a fresh poll, and insisted it was the "duty" of MPs to deliver on the result of the 2016 vote.

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And she said that a no-deal outcome could be secured only by revoking the UK's declaration of its intention to quit the EU under Article 50 of its treaties, something she was not prepared to do.

Aides later said that Mrs May was concerned over the possibility of "bad feeling or rancour" and harm to trust in democracy if the majority who voted Leave in 2016 felt their voice was being ignored.

Mrs May made no specific proposals on the backstop, which is designed to ensure an open border in Ireland after Brexit, but has raised concerns about the possibility of the UK being trapped in a customs union with the EU for an indefinite period.

She told MPs: "I will be talking further this week to colleagues – including in the DUP – to consider how we might meet our obligations to the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland in a way that can command the greatest possible support in the House.

"And I will then take the conclusions of those discussions back to the EU."

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