By Andrew Woodcock, Press Association Political Editor, in Buenos Aires
Theresa May has accused Labour of planning a “betrayal of the British people” by voting down her Brexit deal and pushing the country towards a no-deal departure from the EU.
With less than a fortnight to go to the historic House of Commons vote on her plan, the Prime Minister urged all MPs – including 100 or more Tories who have said they may rebel – to cast their vote “in the national interest” and back a deal which she said would deliver Brexit while protecting jobs.
In a round of broadcast interviews in Argentina, where she is attending the G20 summit, Mrs May declined to discuss whether she might offer a Plan B if her deal is voted down on December 11, or whether defeat could mean her resigning or being forced out.
“It’s not about me,” said Mrs May. “This is about what is in the national interest.
“It’s about delivering the vote to leave the EU and doing it in a way that protects people’s jobs and livelihoods and protects our security and our United Kingdom.”
Her comments came after a cross-party group of senior MPs tabled an amendment to stop the UK leaving the EU without a deal if Mrs May’s plan fails to win the support of the Commons.
The amendment, put down by a group of committee chairs, including Labour’s Hilary Benn and prominent Tory Sarah Wollaston, calls for the Commons to be able to express its views about what should happen if Mrs May’s deal is voted down.
Speaking at the G20 in Buenos Aires, European Council president Donald Tusk warned that Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement is “the only possible one” and voting it down will either lead to a no-deal Brexit or no Brexit at all.
He told reporters: “The European Union has just agreed an orderly divorce with the United Kingdom.
“A few days before the vote in the House of Commons it is becoming more and more clear that this deal is the best possible – in fact the only possible one.
“If this deal is rejected in the Commons we are left with, as was already stressed a few weeks ago by Prime Minister May, an alternative: no deal or no Brexit at all.”
Asked whether she was putting pressure on Tory MPs to fall in behind her plan, Mrs May said: “Obviously we’re talking to colleagues about this vote. I think we should remember that we gave the vote to the British people as to whether or not to leave the EU. People voted for Brexit and I think it’s up to us to deliver Brexit.
“The message I get from members of the public is that they want the Government to do that, they want us to deliver Brexit and we want to do it in a way that protects people’s jobs. I think it’s that interest in constituents that MPs need to have in their minds too when they come to vote.”
Turning her fire on Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, who she has offered to debate with on TV ahead of the crunch Commons vote, Mrs May said: “I’ve got a plan, I’ve got a proposal, I’ve got the deal that I’ve negotiated.
“We don’t see any alternative coming forward from the Labour Party. I think people need to be aware of that.
“Instead, what I see from Labour is an attempt to frustrate what the Government is doing to deliver Brexit for the British people. That is actually a betrayal of the British people.”
Mrs May said she was ready to use the G20 summit to correct suggestions by US president Donald Trump – who is also in Buenos Aires – that her deal would leave the UK unable to forge a trade agreement with America.
“I’m very happy to tell President Trump and others that we will have an independent trade policy, because we will have an independent trade policy, we will be able to do trade deals,” she said.
“It is expressly referenced in the deal that we have negotiated with the EU. It says we will be able to do those trade deals, and we will be able to do them with the US and others.”
Mrs May’s comments came as International Trade Secretary Liam Fox insisted that a no-deal Brexit would not be a disaster.
Dr Fox said that reactions to Whitehall analysis showing that withdrawing from the EU without an agreement would have severe economic consequences had been “overblown”.
Dr Fox, who insisted that Mrs May was “changing the public mood”, appeared to suggest that some of his Cabinet colleagues may still vote against the PM’s Brexit deal.
Asked if he thought the whole Cabinet would back the deal in the Commons, Dr Fox told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think members of the Cabinet will vote for the deal.”
But hinting at potential further resignations from Mrs May’s top team over Brexit, he added: “Members of the Cabinet who don’t vote for the deal won’t be members of the Cabinet.”
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg accused the Government of an effort to “frighten and to gull (people) into acquiescing to a non-Brexit Brexit”.
Dr Fox, who has given his backing to Mrs May’s deal, is using a speech on Friday to appeal for unity and support for the PM’s stance.