EU to offer Brexit delay lifeline
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