Jeremy Corbyn has told Theresa May in angry exchanges that changes to the backstop will “not be sufficient” to win his support for a Brexit deal, ahead of a private meeting between the pair.
The Labour leader and prime minister are due to hold talks in parliament on Wednesday afternoon behind closed doors, after May managed to win a majority for her new negotiating position.
MPs voted by a margin of 317 to 301 last night to back a plan – the “Brady amendment” – which requires the PM to replace the Withdrawal Agreement’s controversial backstop with “alternative arrangements” to keep the Irish border open after Brexit.
Corbyn had been refusing to talk directly with May until she ruled out a no-deal Brexit. He changed his mind after the Commons last night also voted against leaving the EU without a deal.
MPs supported a cross-party amendment opposing a no-deal Brexit by 318 votes to 310. But while this will place political pressure on the PM, it is not legally binding on the government.
Speaking during PMQs today, Corbyn said he wanted to find a Brexit solution that could “unite the country”.
“Changes to the backstop alone will not be sufficient,” he said.
“The prime minister may have succeeded in temporarily uniting her very divided party but is she willing to make the compromises necessary that are more important – and that is to unite the country going forward to secure jobs and living standards right across the UK,” he said.
But May accused Corbyn of “risking no-deal” by refusing to back her plan.
“He’s a fine one to talk about coming together when it was only last night that he agreed to actually meet me to talk about these issues,” she said.
“Time and time again he has told me to listen to the views of the House. He’s just stood up and said the backstop is not the only issue in the Withdrawal Agreement.
“Last night the House voted by a majority to say the issue that needed to be addressed was the backstop. He needs to listen to the House and to recognise that.”
The EU was quick out of the blocks on Tuesday night to reject the idea the backstop could be changed. “The Withdrawal Agreement is not open for re-negotiation,” European Council president Donald Tusk said.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay was also unable to explain what the “alternative” to the backstop would be, despite being asked five times on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Those determined to prevent no-deal or delay Brexit will have a further opportunity no later than February 14, when May has promised the Commons a further opportunity to vote on her plans.
There were recriminations on the Labour side after 14 MPs rebelled to vote against an amendment from Yvette Cooper which would have given parliament the power to direct the Brexit process, potentially delaying withdrawal until the end of the year.