MPs pass amendment pledging to replace Irish backstop with ‘alternative arrangements’

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Theresa May was handed a two-week deadline to resuscitate her Brexit deal last night after she caved to Tory Eurosceptics and pledged to go back to Brussels to demand changes to the Irish backstop.

With just 59 days to go until exit day, MPs narrowly passed a government-backed amendment, tabled by the senior Conservative Graham Brady, promising to replace the Irish backstop with unspecified “alternative arrangements”.

But within minutes of the Commons result, the European council president, Donald Tusk, announced that the EU was not prepared to reopen the deal.

“The withdrawal agreement is, and remains, the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union,” a spokesman for Tusk said. “The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement, and the withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation.”

Leo Varadkar, the Irish taoiseach, said the EU needed to “hold our nerve”.

On a dramatic day in Westminster the House of Commons also served notice that it would not support the government if it pursued a no-deal Brexit, undermining what May regards as one of her key bargaining chips in the days ahead.

However, May said: “It is now clear that there is a route that can secure a substantial and sustainable majority in this house for leaving the EU, with a deal.”

She repeatedly stressed protections for workers’ rights, as well as mooting changes to the backstop in the hope of winning over Labour MPs, and promised to keep “battling for Britain”.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said he would meet the prime minister after the amendment against no-deal Brexit was passed. He had previously declined her invitation to talks until a no deal was taken off the table.

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