THERESA MAY has two weeks to renegotiate Brexit terms with the EU after a crunch vote last night.
The prime minister was thrown the lifeline when MPs backed a proposal for her to seek ‘alternative arrangements’ to replace the unpopular Irish backstop.
She promised to pursue ‘significant and legally binding change’ to ensure the contingency measure for avoiding border checks does not trap the UK in a customs union with the EU.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (below) responded to the vote by dropping his refusal to enter talks with Mrs May over how to resolve the Brexit stand-off at Westminster.
He said he would ask her to tell Brussels what Labour wants from the revised deal.
But the European Council president Donald Tusk insisted the agreement, including the backstop, could not be renegotiated.
His spokesman said: ‘The withdrawal agreement is and remains the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the UK from the EU.
‘The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement and the withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation.’ The proposal that Mrs May should be sent to renegotiate was put forward by Graham Brady, the chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 committee, and later secured the official support of the government.
It passed by 317 votes to 301, with Northern Ireland’s DUP backing it.
Mrs May admitted there was ‘limited appetite’ from the EU to renegotiate and it would ‘not be easy’.
But she said: ‘It’s clear there’s now a route that can deliver a substantial and sustainable majority in this House for leaving the EU with a deal.
‘I will now take this mandate forward and seek to obtain legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement that deal with concerns.’
She promised to bring a revised deal back to parliament by February 14 — St Valentine’s Day — and said she was hopeful Brussels would show a little love despite its tough stance. ‘The EU has made concessions in areas where people said no ground would be given,’ she told the Commons.
Mr Corbyn said: ‘I will meet the prime minister and others from across parliament to find a sensible Brexit solution that works for the whole country.
‘That should be based around Labour’s alternative plan of a customs union with the UK, a strong single market relationship and a cast iron guarantee on workers’ rights, consumer standards and environmental protections.’
A proposal from Labour’s Yvette Cooper that Brexit should be delayed to allow for more talks was rejected by MPs. But Mr Corbyn warned that a postponement was inevitable because Mrs May was ‘not even close to being ready’ for departure. Ms Cooper said: ‘I don’t think the prime minister has a plan now to sort this out.
‘The chasing of unicorns could mean we end up with a no-deal by accident.’
MPs defied the government by voting in favour of taking a no-deal Brexit off the table. It was in a non-binding ballot that Mrs May can ignore, but provides an indication of the possible result if such a vote is called in earnest.
The PM did not make clear to MPs what alternative Irish arrangements she might seek but said a time limit could be placed on the backstop. She claimed the idea was ‘already accepted by the EU as a way out’ of the plan to prevent the return of checks on Northern Ireland’s border with the Republic.
But German MEP Manfred Weber, who chairs the largest party in the European parliament, warned that if Britain tries to alter the Brexit deal the EU might decide to do so as well.
He said: ‘If there is now a one-sided attempt to reopen this agreement, the consequence will be that not only the backstop will be renegotiated, but also the Gibraltar question, the question of how much Britain has to pay and the citizens’ rights.’
The European Research Group of Brexiteer Tory backbenchers said it had backed Mr Brady in the hope Mrs May could secure concessions besides replacing the backstop.
Its deputy chairman Steve Baker, a former Brexit minister, said: ‘A vote for the Brady amendment is a vote to see if the PM can land a deal that will work.’
Mrs May phoned EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker ahead of her speech to parliament to tell him what it contained. Irish broadcaster RTE claimed he told her it would be ‘fruitless’ to try to reopen the deal.
Salad crisis? Let them eat chips
THE DUP was accused of telling people to ‘go to the chippy’ if food supplies are hit by a no-deal Brexit. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas claimed a member of the Northern Irish party muttered the suggestion during a Commons speech by the SNP’s Ian Blackford about the risk of shortages. Supermarkets have said a no-deal would affect supplies of fresh food including salad, as we reported on our front page yesterday.
■ A RADIO host who said ‘I hate polls’ had to explain himself to a listener who called live on air to accuse him of racism to Poles. Mike Graham said on talkRADIO he didn’t trust political surveys. Caller Michael, of New Malden, south-west London, said: ‘You said you don’t like Polish people, you said you don’t trust them.’
■ SHELTERS for hundreds of migrants have been opened in Calais, where freezing conditions are forecast. French officials said the ‘limited’ shelters were a response to ‘humanitarian need’ and were not accommodation centres. Although the Calais ‘Jungle’ closed in 2016, about 450 migrants are still living in tents.