EU to of­fer Brexit de­lay life­line

Marlborough Express - - FRONT PAGE -

could be yoked to the EU for­ever if the Ir­ish back­stop came into force.

The le­gal ad­vice, pre­pared by Ge­of­frey Cox QC, the At­tor­ney Gen­eral, also makes it clear that North­ern Ire­land and main­land Bri­tain would be sub­ject to dif­fer­ent cus­toms regimes un­der the back­stop, cre­at­ing a reg­u­la­tory bor­der in the Ir­ish Sea.

The le­gal ad­vice – which the Gov­ern­ment was forced to pub­lish after be­ing found in con­tempt of Par­lia­ment for not do­ing so – flew in the face of as­sur­ances from May and other min­is­ters that the back­stop would only be tem­po­rary and that North­ern Ire­land would be treated in ex­actly the same way as the rest of the UK.

Last night May was try­ing to sal­vage her deal by dis­cussing a way of giv­ing MPS a veto over the back­stop – the mech­a­nism de­signed to avoid a hard bor­der in Ire­land if no trade deal can be agreed.

Two al­ter­na­tive plans were be­ing dis­cussed with back­benchers, one of which would force May to seek a uni­lat­eral exit mech­a­nism from the back­stop, while the other would give MPS the right to choose be­tween the back­stop or a no-deal Brexit if trade talks fail.

EU lead­ers are pre­pared to of­fer her a life­line by of­fer­ing to ex­tend the Ar­ti­cle 50 process – and post­pon­ing Brexit be­yond March – if she asks them to at the two-day sum­mit next week.

A suc­ces­sion of Tory MPS, in­clud­ing Sir Michael Fal­lon and Mark Harper, yes­ter­day urged May to re­turn to Brus­sels and seek a re­vised deal.

How­ever, May will be hugely re­luc­tant to post­pone Brexit as it would mean break­ing her prom­ise that Bri­tain will leave the EU on March 29, which could in turn force her to re­sign and give a new Con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter the op­por­tu­nity to rene­go­ti­ate the deal.

Last night the DUP, on whose votes May re­lies for her work­ing ma­jor­ity, en­cour­aged Brex­i­teers to vote against the deal by say­ing its MPS would sup­port the Gov­ern­ment in a con­fi­dence vote if the deal was re­jected.

How­ever, the party said its con­fi­dence and sup­ply deal with the Con­ser­va­tive Party would be over if the deal is voted through, ef­fec­tively giv­ing May a choice be­tween her deal or her premier­ship.

On the sec­ond day of the five­day de­bate over the deal, it emerged that May will leave it to Michael Gove, the En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary, to make the clos­ing speech next Tues­day.

By al­low­ing Gove, who was coleader of the Leave cam­paign, to speak last, May is gam­bling on him be­ing able to win round any wa­ver­ing Brex­i­teers, but the gam­ble will be seen to have back­fired if she loses the vote.

Cabi­net min­is­ters are al­ready jostling for po­si­tion in any lead­er­ship con­test that might re­sult from a heavy de­feat for May, with Do­minic Raab, the for­mer Brexit sec­re­tary, emerg­ing as a po­ten­tial ‘‘unity can­di­date’’ who could bring to­gether Re­main­ers and Brex­i­teers.

Mean­while, friends of Cox said they feared he might be on the brink of re­sign­ing after his tur­bu­lent week, and a for­mer min­is­ter sug­gested at least two other min­is­ters were close to quit­ting.

As May spent yes­ter­day in meet­ings with back­bench MPS op­posed to her deal, Liam Fox, the In­ter­na­tional Trade Sec­re­tary, warned that Re­main­ers will ‘‘steal Brexit’’ if the deal is re­jected. – Tele­graph Group

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