May’s Brexit on the brink
PM braced for new resignations after shock Jo Johnson exit Jacob Rees-Mogg: UK can pay EU £20bn for a ‘No Deal Plus’ No 10 vows: we won’t cave in to EU over customs union ...and points f inger at Irish PM over backstop sabotage
THERESA MAY’S hopes of striking a Brexit deal have been thrown into chaos after Brussels rejected an emergency plan designed to avert a Cabinet split which could bring down her Premiership.
Downing Street had pinned its hopes of a breakthrough on a proposal drawn up by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox t o placate Brexiteers fearful that the UK will be left as an EU ‘vassal’.
But last night, sources in London and Brussels said that the EU had dismissed the ‘Cox compromise’, increasing the risk that the UK will now be forced into a no-deal Brexit.
No 10 sought to calm Tory MPs’ nerves by insisting that the Government would not strike an agreement ‘at any cost’ and surrender to EU demands.
However, Brexiteer Tories queued up to criticise Mrs May’s handling of the negotiations as a ‘shambles’ which was turning the UK into an international ‘laughing stock’. The tense deadlock came as: Jacob Rees-Mogg, the powerful leader of arch-Brexit Tory MPs, offered Mrs May a way out of the impasse by calling for her to pay £20 billion to Brussels to secure a ‘No Deal Plus’ arrangement;
Mrs May was on alert for fresh Government resignations in the wake of Transport Minister Jo Johnson’s shock departure on Friday over her ‘deeply flawed’ negotiations; he said yesterday that other Ministers were ‘reflecting hard’ on their position;
The PM’s allies said any chance of the Cabinet approving a draft deal in he next 48 hours were ‘receding fast’, potentially delaying t he crunch Commons vote until 2019;
No 10 pointed the finger at Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar for ‘sabotaging’ the process;
Anti- May MPs told colleagues to redouble their efforts to force the Prime Minister to quit by submitting letters of ‘no confidence’ in her leadership.
Outlining his surprise ‘No Deal Plus’ plan in today’s Mail on Sunday, Mr Rees-Mogg – who is chairman of t he Tories’ European Research Group whose 80 members hold the Prime Minister’s fate in their hands – suggests offering a sweetener to Brussels to ‘make our departure as amicable as possible’.
The Brexiteer, who has previously argued against paying any of the planned £39 billion ‘divorce bill’ to the EU, now argues £20 billion would be an acceptable sum to pay to mitigate against any unexpected effects of a no-deal Brexit. Fears have been raised of problems such as huge lorry queues leading into Dover and shortages of food and medicine.
He writes in The Mail on Sunday: ‘It is time for convinced Brexiteers like me to compromise. So at this late hour in the negotiations, we would like to make a new, generous offer to break the deadlock, to achieve a “No Deal Plus”. It would cost us money but it would finally dispel the “crash out” Project Fear nightmare scenarios.’
Critics say the new plan still does not address the thorny issue of how to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
Under its latest timetable, No 10 had hoped to reach an agreement with the EU by the end of last week, to allow it to be put before the Cabinet by Tuesday.
Brussels has privately told the Government that if the green light is not given by Wednesday, it would be too late to trigger a vital EU summit before December – meaning that the Commons vote on the deal would be pushed back until after Christmas and perilously close to Brexit day on March 29.
Negotiations have been deadlocked over the EU’s demand that the UK should stay within a temporary customs partnership as the ‘backstop’ to avoid a hard border in Ireland if a long-term free trade deal cannot be agreed after the end of the transition period in 2020.
Brexiteers want the right to leave the partnership as soon as possible and without Brussels’ approval: the EU says that to do so would invalidate the ‘backstop’ protection.
If Mrs May agrees to indefinite membership of the partnership – which would mean accepting Brussels rules – she faces the prospect of a mass Cabinet walkout and a likely leadership challenge.
In an attempt to solve the problem, Mr Cox had drafted a proposal for an independent arbitration panel which would decide when the UK could leave the partnership without
‘No 10 is turning Britain into a laughing stock’
the EU having a right of veto. But senior Government sources say the EU has now made it clear that only the European Court of Justice could make a ruling on EU laws – which would be unacceptable to Mrs May.
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis condemned the EU position last night, saying it would ‘completely betray the wishes of 17.4 million people’ who voted Leave.
Sources say Brussels is digging in on the issue at the behest of Mr Varadkar, who is ‘sabotaging’ the process because he is ‘playing to
the domestic gallery’ in Dublin over a united Ireland. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab alarmed the Irish last week by demanding any backstop should last just three months.
Mr Varadkar rejected the idea that the UK could unilaterally call time on the Irish border backstop, and No 10 says any hope of reaching an agreement before the EU’s Wednesday deadline now rests on being able to win him round.
The DUP, which is helping prop up Mrs May’s Government, has also stepped up the pressure by warning it will not tolerate any regulatory difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Jo Johnson, the Remain-voting brother of former Foreign Secretary Boris, said yesterday that he knew some other Ministers were ‘ reflecting hard’ on whether to accept Mrs May’s position. He said: ‘If others follow, good on them.’
Last night, Toryarch-Brexiteer Peter Bone said: ‘Handled the right way, Brexit represents a glorious future for our nation but the way some people in No 10 are handling it is turning us into a laughing stock.’
Former Brexit Minister David Jones said Mrs May’s original clarity on delivering Brexit ‘has somehow been distorted into a plot so convoluted, it would have defeated the ingenuity of Lewis Carroll.’
Last night, a No 10 source, who admitted that hopes of Cabinet agreeing to a deal by Tuesday were ‘receding fast’ said: ‘We should aim to conclude the withdrawal agreement as soon as possible but we will not do this at any cost.
‘There are a number of issues that need to be worked through on the Northern Ireland backstop and these are the most difficult.
‘They include ensuring that, if it is ever needed, it is not permanent and there is a mechanism to ensure the UK could not be held in the arrangement indefinitely’.