Theresa May insists she is 'on course to deliver Brexit' despite vote defeat

Greg Heffer, Political Reporter

Theresa May has insisted she is "on course to deliver Brexit" as she tried to shrug off a Commons defeat on key legislation.

Speaking as she arrived at a European Council summit in Brussels, the Prime Minister attempted to play down the significance of a Government loss on the EU Withdrawal Bill on Wednesday night.

A group of 11 Tory rebels forced an amendment to the flagship bill to demand a "meaningful vote" on any Brexit deal, despite Mrs May having warned it could put at risk an "orderly and smooth exit from the EU".

The Prime Minister admitted she was "disappointed" with the defeat but suggested it was not a setback, as she pointed to a Government victory in all other Brexit votes so far.

She told reporters in the Belgian capital: "I'm disappointed with the amendment but actually the EU Withdrawal Bill is making good progress in the House of Commons and we're on course to deliver on Brexit."

Mrs May added: "We've actually had 36 votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill and we've won 35 of those votes with an average majority of 22.

"So the bill is making good progress, we're on course to deliver Brexit and we're on course to deliver on the vote of the British people."

During the Brussels summit, it is expected the 27 other EU member states will sanction the start of Brexit trade talks after the Prime Minister agreed a deal on key divorce issues last week.

The European Parliament voted in favour of the draft withdrawal agreement on Wednesday.

On her arrival, Mrs May said she hoped to now discuss "the ambitious and deep and special partnership that I want to build with the EU for the future", along with other matters such as European security and terrorism.

In London, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was also bullish about the Government's ability to deliver Brexit, despite the revolt by some Conservative MPs.

He told a news conference: "Brexit is unstoppable. It will go on and we will get it done in, I think, a very, very successful way.

"I cannot believe, for the life of me, that when it comes to it that Parliament will actually vote to stop or reverse the Brexit process or frustrate the will of the British people, that's just not going to happen."

Last week's agreement on divorce matters was held up by wrangling over the issue of the Irish border, with the final wording of the draft deal - aimed at avoiding a hard border - set to be rubber-stamped by EU leaders on Friday.

But, asked by Sky News whether Ireland would now be Britain's best friend as Brexit talks progress to trade negotiations, the country's prime minister Leo Varadkar signalled he will remain committed to preserving EU unity.

"Ireland is a member of the EU so our best friends are the 27 member states," he said.

"But after that of course we'll be Britain's closet friend.

"But as a remaining member, obviously our very closest relations have to be with other members of the EU just as they were our best friends in the weeks gone by."