Tories tell PM to try again with Brussels
The leader of the Tory backbenches has told Theresa May to go back to Brussels for further talks rather than see her Brexit deal defeated heavily next week.
Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, who relays backbench opinion to Downing Street, broke cover to appeal for her to consider a delay to the vote on Tuesday (Wednesday AEDT).
Downing Street remains adamant Mrs May is pressing ahead with the vote despite growing cabinet unease.
The Prime Minister yesterday called a group of supportive senior ministers to a meeting in No 10.
Her spokeswoman said Brexit was discussed but did not give details. A senior Downing Street source suggested it was little more than an update.
A cabinet source said: “There was a consensus around the cabinet table that she mustn’t go down to a substantial defeat. A number of cabinet ministers made clear if this looked like happening, she needed to pull or delay the vote.
“But when people round the table pushed her on what she was going to do, she did not provide an answer. The meeting started at 1.30 but by 2.25 they were back in their departments, showing you how little progress was made.”
Mrs May earlier hinted she could offer fresh reassurances to critics of the controversial backstop, the UK’s legal guarantee to the EU that there will be no hard Irish border.
The DUP says the backstop drives a wedge between Northern Ireland and Britain, while Brexiteers view it as a trap to keep the UK shackled to the bloc and susceptible to endless blackmail.
Mrs May said it was “obvious” parliament should be involved in decisions on how it operated amid frantic negotiations with rebels over potential concessions.
However, Downing Street maintains Mrs May will not reopen negotiations with the EU over the text of the divorce deal. Instead, it is developing proposals that would give MPs a regular review of whether the EU was doing its best to replace the backstop with a permanent deal.
Aides say Mrs May will not pretend that the proposals amount to an answer to the demand from Brexiteers that Britain should have a unilateral legal right to exit the backstop. The government will only table an amendment to its motion on Monday if Downing Street believes it will succeed in winning significant enough support. However, Sir Graham warned Mrs May that MPs were expecting a “mechanism of bringing (the backstop) to an end”.
He told Sky News: “I can’t see why there should be an objection to providing either an end date — three years’ time, whatever it might be — when we would automatically leave that arrangement or some other mechanism just to make sure we could leave.
“I don’t think there is any point in ploughing ahead and losing the vote heavily. What I would like is to have the reassurance that’s necessary that will answer the concerns that colleagues have but if that reassurance isn’t available by Tuesday, then I think it is perfectly sensible to delay.”
Sir Graham said next week’s meeting of the European Council offered an opportunity for Mrs May to wring further concessions.
The government tried to placate rebels by getting loyal Tories to put down an amendment that would give parliament greater powers after Brexit.
It would give the Commons a vote in 2020 to extend transition, a vote on going into the backstop, put a duty on government to have a plan to supersede the backstop within a year if the backstop is needed and a duty on government to seek further EU assurances it is temporary.