MAY’S PLAN B? TWEAK DEAL AND TRY IT AGAIN
She’s determined to get agreement through even if it’s rejected by MPs tomorrow, says Brexit Secretary
IF THERESA May’s Brexit deal is rejected by MPs tomorrow, her ‘Plan B’ is to return to the Commons with a similar version, the Brexit Secretary said yesterday.
Steve Barclay suggested the Prime Minister will not give up on her plan if it is defeated, but instead make a second attempt to get it passed with a slightly amended agreement.
Mr Barclay said there had been ‘some movement’ from MPs to support the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal – and a handful of Tories who had previously been wavering pledged last night to vote for it.
But when pressed on what happens if it is voted down, Mr Barclay told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘It will be for the House to decide what it is able to support and I suspect it will be along the lines of this deal.
‘Because this is the deal that delivers on what people like me – Brexiteers like me – campaigned for. This delivers for Brexiteers but does so in a way that respects the needs of the business community.’
The so-called ‘meaningful vote’ by MPs on the Brexit deal had been scheduled to take place in December but was called off at the 11th hour with a government victory looking unlikely.
It is still expected to be defeated heavily tomorrow, but Mrs May last night received a rare boost as four Brexit-backing Tory MPs – Sir Geoffrey Clifton Brown, Sir Edward Leigh, Dr Caroline Johnson and Dr Andrew Murrison – publicly came out in support of it. The quartet expressed ‘ misgivings’ about aspects of the deal but said they had been convinced to vote for it because of concerns about the threat to Brexit if it is voted down.
Labour MP John Mann also said he would vote for the deal. He told Sky News: ‘A day is a long time in politics so things can change, but as it stands, it is likely I will vote for the deal.’
Former Tory minister Nick Boles last night warned the Prime Minister that she will need to come forward with something that is ‘quite substantially different’ if her deal is defeated.
Mr Boles, who is proposing a ‘Norway-plus’ option that would see the UK remain in a customs union with continued freedom of movement from the EU, accused the Government of a ‘gross dereliction of responsibility’ for not reaching out sooner to opposition parties to find a compromise on Brexit.
Asked how he thought Mrs May would respond if her deal is defeated, Mr Boles told the BBC: ‘It’s got to be something quite major because what will not be acceptable to Parliament is for her to run out the clock and just say, “well, I’ll come back and have another go in two weeks’ time in the hope that you’re all so scared witless that you start voting for this deal that you’ve rejected”.’
He added that he ‘ couldn’t believe it’ when Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer told the Commons that the Government had not approached him to discuss a compromise.
He said: ‘It’s a gross dereliction of responsibility by the endless succession of Brexit secretaries that have come and gone.
‘But now, finally, I think that the penny is dropping. My hope is that finally – after the vote is lost on Tuesday night – finally the Prime Minister will realise this is what has to be done.’
But Brexiteers last night warned they would not ‘stand idly by’ if the Government seeks a cross-party agreement that leads to Britain remaining in a customs union with the EU.
Tory MP Simon Clarke tweeted: ‘A permanent customs union is unthinkable – a total national humiliation.
‘ If Conservative Remainers think we would stand idly by and let that happen...’
Former prime minister Sir John Major yesterday called for ‘Article 50’ – the formal process for leaving the EU – to be halted and warned that a ‘no-deal’ departure would be ‘morally reprehensible’.
Meanwhile, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) predicted last night that Britain was unlikely to leave the European Union on March 29.
The forecasting group said it expected Mrs May will lose the meaningful vote and will be forced to request an extension to Article 50. The EIU believes Brussels will agree to an extension, meaning Britain will remain in the trade bloc beyond the planned exit date.
Leaving the EU without a deal is the least likely outcome, according to the forecast, which put the probability of a no-deal exit at 5 per cent.
Instead, the EIU said there was a 40 per cent chance Mrs May’s deal will eventually be approved by Parliament in a subsequent vote, after gaining further assurances from Brussels.
And it predicted a 30 per cent probability of a second referendum being called to break the political deadlock.