The prime minister dismissed speculation that she will pull the “meaningful vote” for a second time, because of the scale of the opposition, saying: “We will be holding the vote.”
But she refused – four times – to rule out bringing back the vote “again and again and again”, as the looming threat of a no-deal Brexit, now just weeks away, piles pressure on MPs to back down.
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Asked, by the BBC’s Andrew Marr, if she would “bring it back” after a defeat, Ms May said only: “I am working on getting this vote through parliament.
“It is for those who oppose the deal to say what the alternative is and, so far, nobody has put forward an alternative that delivers on all those issues and, crucially, delivers on the referendum result.”
But the prime minister also hinted that MPs could decide what happens next, saying: “We are going to be in uncharted territory. I don’t think anybody can say exactly what will happen in terms of the reaction we’ll see in parliament.”
Strikingly, Ms May appeared unable to point to any significant progress in persuading the EU to give ground on the Irish border backstop, since last month.
She said she was still seeking “further assurances from the EU on the issues raised”, as well as on how to give parliament a stronger role over future trade negotiations.
Last month, when fighting off the vote of no confidence by Tory MPs, the prime minister vowed to secure a new “legally binding” power for the UK to break free of the backstop, if implemented.
But, in the interview, she said the “crucial element” was speeding up a future trade deal, to remove the backstop – designed to avoid border posts and checks in Ireland – quickly.
However, experts have warned trade talks will take many years, while the backstop would be in place from January 2021, unless the transition period is extended as an alternative.
MPs will resume debating the withdrawal agreement on Wednesday, with the vote expected on 15 or 16 January. Ms May said it would be “that sort of timing”.
If the deal is thrown out, Labour will push for a no-confidence vote, to force a general election – but this is also expected to fail, with no sign of Tory or Democratic Unionist Party support.
The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.