Tories tell PM to try again with Brus­sels

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD - FRAN­CIS EL­LIOTT SAM COATES

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.

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