Govt aides tell May of plan to quit over her Brexit deal

Gulf Times - - BRITAIN -

Pro-Brexit gov­ern­ment aides have told Theresa May they are plan­ning a se­ries of res­ig­na­tions on Tues­day un­less there are ma­jor changes to her deal, the Guardian has learned.

Mike Wood, the par­lia­men­tary pri­vate sec­re­tary (PPS) to the trade sec­re­tary, Liam Fox, said he would quit his post and join leave-sup­port­ing back­benchers un­less changes were made to the back­stop.

The MP for Dud­ley South was one of more than a dozen elected min­is­te­rial aides who met the prime min­is­ter last week to ex­press their con­cerns about the EU with­drawal deal.

The devel­op­ment is a fresh blow to May’s hopes of min­imis­ing the mar­gin of de­feat in Tues­day’s par­lia­men­tary vote on the deal, with the chief whip, Ju­lian Smith, re­ly­ing on the “pay­roll vote” of more than 100 MPs to sup­port the gov­ern­ment.

Speak­ing yes­ter­day, Wood said he had told May he would have to re­sign un­less there were sig­nif­i­cant changes to the back­stop. It is un­der­stood that other ju­nior min­is­ters have made sim­i­lar rep­re­sen­ta­tions.

He told the Guardian: “What I have in­di­cated to the prime min­is­ter is that while I sup­port most of the deal, I have some big is­sues with the back­stop. If some of those aren’t ad­dressed then I don’t think I will be able to sup­port it.

“Clearly the min­is­te­rial code says that if I can’t sup­port, I would have to re­sign. I am very much hop­ing that there are enough changes and re­as­sur­ances by Tues­day for me to vote with the gov­ern­ment,” he said.

Wood, whose con­stituency voted 71% to leave, said he had met May with two back­benchers who also ex­pressed con­cerns about the back­stop. “The prime min­is­ter has had lots of meet­ings with lots of col­leagues with a lot of dif­fer­ent views to hear feed­back,” he said. “I want some mech­a­nism to be in place so that we ei­ther don’t go into the back­stop pro­vi­sions, or if we go into it we have a clear way of get­ting out again. This could be achieved in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ways so I will ob­vi­ously look at the pro­pos­als as they are on Tues­day be­fore I de­cide whether to go.”

Wood said many other ju­nior min­is­ters would be con­sid­er­ing their op­tions over the week­end. “You can ob­vi­ously see there have been a num­ber of PPSs who have spo­ken in favour of the gov­ern­ment this week. A clear ma­jor­ity (of them) will vote with the gov­ern­ment on Tues­day. There are oth­ers who have a range of ques­tions and con­cerns that they will want to be re­solved be­fore mak­ing their de­ci­sion,” he said.

The Labour MP Viren­dra Sharma, who sup­ports the an­tiBrexit cam­paign group Best for Bri­tain, said: “Even a mem­ber of Liam Fox’s team doesn’t be­lieve his boss’s protes­ta­tions that this is a good deal. You can see a slow mo­tion car crash hap­pen­ing in front of our eyes. It looks like the fox has been well and truly shot.”

He added: “This was all sup­posed to be so easy, but like ev­ery­thing to do with Liam Fox it seems like re­al­ity has got in the way.”

Wood’s fel­low Dud­ley MP, Ian Austin, who rep­re­sents the north of the town, is one of the few Labour MPs to have sug­gested May’s deal meets his party’s six tests.

The prime min­is­ter will put her painstak­ingly ne­go­ti­ated agree­ment to the House of Com­mons with the odds stacked heav­ily against her.

She despatched more than 30 of her min­is­ters around the coun­try yes­ter­day in what White­hall sources called a “star­burst”, to sell the deal to the pub­lic, though it is MPs, not vot­ers, who will de­ter­mine its fate.

Asked whether the min­is­ters had vol­un­teered for the task, May’s spokesman said yes­ter­day: “We don’t do con­scrip­tion in this coun­try.”

Down­ing Street has been seek­ing to re­as­sure pro-Brexit MPs about the Ir­ish back­stop af­ter le­gal ad­vice pub­lished reluc­tantly ear­lier this week un­der­lined the fact the ar­range­ment could be­come “in­def­i­nite”. The prime min­is­ter sig­nalled on Thurs­day that MPs would be given a vote in 2020, when the UK will have to de­cide be­tween en­ter­ing the back­stop, or ex­tend­ing the tran­si­tion pe­riod, if no per­ma­nent agree­ment has been reached that avoids the need for a hard bor­der.

Back­benchers tabled an amend­ment on Thurs­day night, thought to have the tacit sup­port of the gov­ern­ment, pledg­ing a vote in those cir­cum­stances – and oblig­ing the gov­ern­ment to seek fresh re­as­sur­ances from the EU27 that the back­stop is not in­tended to last more than a year.

The Demo­cratic Union­ist party, which has ef­fec­tively with­drawn its sup­port from May’s gov­ern­ment in protest against the back­stop, re­jected the com­pro­mise amend­ment.

May’s spokesman in­sisted yes­ter­day that the mean­ing­ful vote would go ahead on Tues­day, de­spite grow­ing pres­sure to de­lay it, in­clud­ing from the chair of the 1922 com­mit­tee of back­bench Con­ser­va­tive MPs, Gra­ham Brady.

Pedes­tri­ans shel­ter from rain be­neath Union flag-themed um­brel­las as they walk along the south bank of the River Thames, near the Houses of Par­lia­ment in cen­tral Lon­don, yes­ter­day. Bri­tish MPs will hold a cru­cial vote on De­cem­ber 11 to ap­prove or re­ject the Brexit deal agreed by Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May and EU lead­ers.

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