May shelves Brexit vote to avoid Commons defeat

May postpones vote as a group of MPs says it is “disappointed” in the Treasury's forecasting of the economic impact of Brexit


Theresa May makes a statement in the House of Commons confirming she has postponed the Brexit vote. PA

Theresa May has postponed the crunch Commons vote on her Brexit deal in the face of overwhelming opposition from her own MPs.

Yesterday's move came just minutes after the prime minister’s spokesperson told reporters a planned vote was “going ahead" tonight as planned.

May has been under pressure from her own Cabinet to pull the vote to stave off a major defeat and allow her to return to Brussels to try and seek changes to the Brexit deal.


In a statement to the House of Commons yesterday, May conceded that pushing ahead would mean “the deal would be rejected by a significant margin”. She said she had pulled the vote because of “widespread and deep concern” about the Northern Ireland backstop.

Following the decision, the prime minister will appeal directly to her German and Dutch counterparts, Angela Merkel and Mark Rutte, for further assurances that Britain will not be permanently locked into the Northern Ireland backstop after leaving the EU.

The controversial back-up plan, which would impose different trade rules on Northern Ireland, has been a focal point for growing opposition to May’s deal.

In the face of almost certain defeat, she yesterday opted to delay the meaningful vote on the agreement and will instead ask for extra clarification on the backstop in an effort to win support for her plan.

There had also been concerns about the level of information and analysis available to MPs to help them decide how to cast their ballots. A report from the Exiting the European Union Select Committee yesterday slammed the government for its “unacceptable” failure to publish a long-delayed white paper setting out its future immigration policy ahead of the vote.

And a Treasury Select Committee report published the same day said MPs would not be able to rely on the Treasury’s economic analysis of potential Brexit scenarios when deciding how to cast their ballots, because of critical omissions in its modelling.

The committee said it was “disappointed” that the forecasts, published last month, included modelling of scenarios that the EU had already rejected – such as the Chequers agreement – but omitted others “that are considered probable and have the potential to be persistent over the medium to long term”.

One of the five analyses was based on a white paper published in February 2017 that set out the government’s goals for its future relationship with the EU. The white paper scenario was “the most optimistic and generous reading” of the political declaration accompanying May’s deal, but could not be used to inform any vote because it “does not represent the central or most likely outcome under the political declaration”, the report said.

The report also criticised the Treasury for making “no allowance for any other dynamic, domestic policy responses” that could affect the impact of Brexit on economic growth, such as policies developed under the industrial strategy, in its analyses.

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