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DUP's Dodds wants to keep no-deal Brexit on table 'as leverage in future talks'

DUP call after May’s Brexit plan suffers another defeat

Brexit result is announced in the Commons last night
Brexit result is announced in the Commons last night
MPs await the result earlier
Theresa May leaves after her deal was defeated
MPs pack the no lobby to vote
Jeremy Corbyn

By Suzanne Breen

MPs are today set to vote against a no-deal Brexit after Theresa May suffered another crushing defeat in Parliament.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds last night said it made no sense to take no-deal off the table. He warned that it would be a "totally self-defeating and utterly counter-productive" move which would strengthen Brussels' hand in future talks.

The Government's proposals for the border in the event of a no-deal Brexit will be published today.

But crashing out of the EU in 16 days' time looks increasingly unlikely.

The Prime Minister's Brexit plan was defeated by 149 votes in the House of Commons, a reduced margin from the record 230 defeat in the first meaningful vote in January.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson tweeted: "Respect the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK and you will have a deal."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Prime Minister should now call a general election.

"The Government has been defeated again by an enormous majority and it must accept its deal is clearly dead and does not have the support of this House," he said.

But Downing Street insiders have ruled out the possibility of an election and also insisted that Theresa May has no intention of resigning.

Parliament will vote tomorrow on whether Article 50 should be extended and Brexit delayed.

A clear majority of MPs are on course to oppose the UK leaving the EU without a deal on March 29.

In a highly unusual move, the Prime Minister has given Tory MPs a free vote in order to avoid a split in her party and cabinet resignations. Labour said it proved she had "given up any pretence of leading the country" and was putting her party's selfish interests before Britain's.

The DUP issued a strong warning against removing the option of no-deal.

"The best way to get a deal you can actually vote for is to keep the threat of a no-deal on the table," Mr Dodds told Sky News.

"Once you take that threat off you are bound to be offered terms which are less advantageous in the sure and certain knowledge that the other side have that you're not going to walk away.

"So, it's totally self-defeating, it's utterly counter-productive."

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said the "landslide rejection" of Mrs May's Brexit plan by the House of Commons was symbolic.

"The scenes show the absolute disregard for the people of Ireland, for our rights, our economy and the Good Friday Agreement that is at the heart of the Tory Brexit agenda.

"The Withdrawal Agreement is imperfect but it is the only deal on offer," she said.

"The backstop is a guarantee that no hard border will be imposed on this island and protects the Good Friday Agreement."

She added: "A crash-out Brexit would be unthinkable for the peace process, jobs, trade and to the loss of people's rights and quality of life, particularly in border communities.

"Despite giving assurances to Theresa May the EU has made clear that the Withdrawal Agreement is not going to be reopened for negotiation.

"There is now a need to intensify planning for a no-deal crash with an imperative to ensure no return to a hard border, protections of our agreements and safeguarding the rights of citizens."

Responding to Mrs May's defeat, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney told the BBC: "The predictions were consistent enough over the last few days that this would be a heavy defeat.

"We now need to be patient and calm to allow this process in Westminster to take its course."

MPs voted by 391 to 242 against the deal, despite the Prime Minister's assurance that new agreements reached with Jean-Claude Juncker in Strasbourg would ensure the UK cannot be trapped in the controversial backstop arrangement indefinitely. Some 75 Conservative MPs rebelled to vote against the deal, while just three Labour MPs and four independents joined the 235 Tories who backed it.

European Commission president Mr Juncker had already warned that if MPs turned down the package agreed in Strasbourg on Monday, there would be "no third chance" to renegotiate.

Struggling with a croaky voice, Mrs May told Parliament that she still believed that leaving with a deal was the best option for Britain and that "the deal we've negotiated is the best and indeed the only deal available".

She said: "Let me be clear. Voting against leaving without a deal and for an extension does not solve the problems we face.

"The EU will want to know what use we mean to make of such an extension and this House will have to answer that question.

"Does it wish to revoke Article 50? Does it want to hold a second referendum? Or does it want to leave with a deal, but not this deal?

"These are unenviable choices. Thanks to the decision that the House has made this evening, they are choices that must now be faced."

An extension requires the unanimous agreement of all 27 remaining member states, and Mr Juncker has warned that it cannot stretch beyond May 23 unless the UK takes part in the European Parliament elections starting on that date.

Following the Commons' vote, a spokesman for European Council president Donald Tusk said: "On the EU side we have done all that is possible to reach an agreement ... it is difficult to see what more we can do.

"If there is a solution to the current impasse it can only be found in London."

He added: "With only 17 days left to March 29, today's vote has significantly increased the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit. We will continue our no-deal preparations and ensure that we will be ready if such a scenario arises."

Before MPs voted, cabinet gave its approval to Mrs May's package at an early morning meeting.

But the momentum moved sharply against the Prime Minister shortly afterwards, as Attorney General Geoffrey Cox released formal legal advice that the changes secured by Mrs May "reduce the risk" that the backstop will be permanent, but do not remove it altogether.

Belfast Telegraph

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