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Theresa May’s Brexit plans go down to historic defeat in Commons

Theresa May’s Brexit plans go down to historic defeat in Commons

* Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, in touch with UK MPs and set to meet ministers next week, says: “We will continue to prepare Gibraltar for all potential eventualities.”

* GSD Leader Keith Azopardi says vote shows Mr Picardo’s proximity to PM “was a political mistake”.

* Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon says vote gives new hope that Brexit “might not happen at all”.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plans were rejected by an emphatic 432 votes to 202 on Tuesday night, in a historic vote which has thrown the future of her administration and the nature of the UK’s EU withdrawal into doubt.

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The humiliating rebuff was delivered just moments after the Prime Minister made a last-ditch appeal for MPs to back the Withdrawal Agreement which she sealed with Brussels in November after almost two years of negotiation.

The 230-vote margin of defeat was by far the worst suffered by any Government in a meaningful division since at least the First World War and in normal circumstances would be enough to force a Prime Minister from office.

But there was little doubt in Westminster that Mrs May would hang on – and was likely to survive a motion of no-confidence tabled by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and due to be debated on Wednesday.

Mrs May now has until January 21 to set out a Plan B – expected to involve going back to Brussels to seek further concessions, with the clock ticking on the scheduled date of Brexit in just 73 days’ time on March 29.

In a statement immediately after her drubbing, Mrs May said: “The House has spoken and this Government will listen.”

She offered cross-party talks with MPs across the House to determine a way forward.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox appeared to indicate that the PM will resist pressure to tear up her plan or to seek cross-party consensus on a new approach.

He told MPs that in the event of a Government defeat the agreement would have to return to the Commons later “in much the same form with much the same content”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the House of Commons that Mrs May’s “catastrophic” defeat represented an “absolutely decisive” verdict on her Brexit negotiations and said he has tabled a vote of confidence.

Moments before the crunch vote, Mrs May told MPs: “Parliament gave the people a choice, we set the clock ticking on our departure and tonight we will determine whether we move forward with a Withdrawal Agreement that honours the vote and sets us on course for a better future.”

“The responsibility of each and every one of us at this moment is profound, for this is a historic decision that will set the future of our country for generations.”

But the Labour leader called on MPs to vote down the agreement, saying: “This deal is bad for our economy, a bad deal for our democracy, and a bad deal for this country.”

As MPs voted, noisy crowds of pro- and anti-Brexit protesters in Parliament Square could be heard inside the Palace of Westminster.

MPs had been due to vote first on a series of four amendments chosen by Speaker John Bercow.

But Mr Corbyn, Scottish National Party leader Ian Blackford and Tory backbencher Sir Edward Leigh opted not to move their amendments, leaving only one division.

In that vote, a proposal from Conservative MP John Baron for the UK to take unilateral powers to end controversial “backstop” arrangements was rejected by 600 votes to 24.

In Brussels the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said the only positive solution was for Britain to stay in the EU.

“If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?” Mr Tusk tweeted after the vote.

GIBRALTAR REACTIONS

The vote was closely followed in Gibraltar, where Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said he was in close contact with MPs across the political spectrum in the Commons.

“The depth of feeling against the Withdrawal Agreement as a whole has long been clear. There is a lot at stake for Gibraltar,” Mr Picardo said.

“I have already been in touch to a number of colleagues in Parliament in all parties.”

“Next week I will jointly Chair a meeting of the UK/Gibraltar Joint Ministerial Committee on Brexit.”

“I will meet with the Chairpersons of most of the House of Commons Select Committees, who make up the Liaison Committee of the Commons.”

“We will continue to prepare Gibraltar for all potential eventualities.”

But the developments in Westminster once again put focus on the differing views in Gibraltar on Brexit and the Gibraltar Government’s handling of the negotiations.

Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the GSD, said the outcome of the vote had been expected for weeks and that the large majority underscored “how much of a political mistake” it was for Mr Picardo “to tie himself so closely” to Mrs May’s deal.

“Potentially this can give us real problems when dealing with other political parties in the House of Commons in future,” he told the Chronicle.

“This is an indictment on the mishandling by Mr Picardo of this process.”

“The last two years have been a lost opportunity for Gibraltar.”

“What happens on the vote of confidence [on Wednesday] will dictate whether Mrs May gets a second chance to pursue a further vote on her deal.”

“For us in the GSD we have made clear that her deal and Mr Picardo’s deal is a bad deal for Gibraltar as it does not secure anything enduring for Gibraltar while allowing Spain a say in our affairs.”

Mr Azopardi said that if the UK parliament failed to avoid a no deal Brexit, the focus would be on how adequately the Gibraltar Government had planned its contingency arrangements.

And he repeated the GSD’s belief that the best outcome for Gibraltar would be for Article 50 to be withdrawn or extended, or that a second referendum was called allowing people a choice between Mrs May’s deal and remaining in the EU.

“The GSD will support remaining,” he added.

“The GSD has remained consistent throughout this process.”

“If Brexit does happen we consider that we should attempt to secure a future relationship that provides a tailor made arrangement for Gibraltar that contains freedom of movement and single market access at its core.”

Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon said the result in the Commons marked a shift in UK politics that could end in the decision to leave the EU being reversed.

And she said Gibraltar should now put its weight behind that momentum.

“The resounding rejection of the Brexit deal gives us new hope in Gibraltar that Brexit might not go ahead at all,” she told the Chronicle.

“The EU has said that it would support an extension of article 50 for the purposes of allowing the UK government to go back to the British people.”

“Now that this deal is off the table, and given that we are 72 days away from Brexit with no plan, I believe that locally we should be giving our full support to the extension of article 50 and a people’s vote.”

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