May hit with double blow over troubled EU exit deal
THERESA May’s fledgling Brexit deal has suffered a devastating doubleblow, after a minister resigned, calling it a “terrible mistake”, and the DUP warned they could not vote for it.
As the Prime Minister was in Belgium commemorating the Armistice Centenary, Jo Johnson, the brother of Boris Johnson, announced he had quit as transport minister.
The Remainer MP said Mrs May’s plan was “radically” different to what the country had been promised, and backed a second referendum on Brexit.
The UK was “barrelling towards an incoherent Brexit” that would leave it trapped in a subordinate relationship to the EU, he said.
His departure – the sixth by a minister over Brexit – shattered Mrs May’s hope of getting a deal through her Cabinet in the coming days and through Westminster later this month.
Her problems were compounded by Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, whose 10 MPS keep the Tories in power, also attacking the emerging withdrawal deal.
It followed a letter from the PM suggesting Northern Ireland could have a different regulatory regime from the rest of the UK under the latest Irish backstop plans.
It implied there could be a border down the Irish Sea, something Mrs May has previously ruled out, and which the DUP would see as undermining the Union. Mrs Foster said:
“No unionist would be able to support that.”
DUP MP Sammy Wilson added: “That, to us, is a breach of the promise.”
In a lengthy statement issued on social media, Mr Johnson said voters were being offered a choice between Mrs May’s deal, which would leave the UK “economically weakened, with no say in the EU rules it must follow and years of uncertainty for business”, or a No Deal Brexit that would “inflict untold damage” on the country.
“To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis.”
He said previous Tory promises about “the easiest trade deal in history”, the exact same benefits and frictionless trade had proved to be delusions.
“All that is now being finalised is the agreement to pay the EU tens of billions of pounds. All that may be on offer on trade is the potential for an agreement to stay in a temporary customs arrangement while we discuss the possibility of an EU trade deal that all experience shows will take many years to negotiate.”
“Instead of Britain ‘taking back control’, we will cede control to other European countries. This democratic deficit inherent in the Prime Minister’s proposal is a travesty of Brexit.
“The Government’s proposals will see us out of Europe, yet run by Europe, bound by rules which we will have lost a hand in shaping. Worse still, there is no real clarity about how this situation will ever end.”
He said: “On this most crucial of questions, I believe it is entirely right to go back to the people and ask them to confirm their decision to leave the EU and, if they choose to do that, to give them the final say on whether we leave with the Prime Minister’s deal or without it. To do anything less will do grave damage to our democracy.”
Boris Johnson, who quit as Foreign Secretary over Mrs May’s Brexit plan in July, said he was “united in dismay” with his brother at the UK’S “indefensible” position.
Shadow Brexit Minister Jenny Chapman said Mrs May had “lost all authority and is incapable of negotiating a Brexit deal within her own party, let alone with the EU”.
Libdem leader Sir Vince Cable said: “We warmly welcome Jo Johnson’s support of the campaign to give the people the final say on the deal and a chance to exit from Brexit.”
However, despite his party conference voting to keep another referendum on the table, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn ruled it out in an interview with Der Spiegel.
Asked if he could stop Brexit, he said: “We can’t stop it. The referendum took place. Article 50 has been triggered. What we can do is recognize the reasons why people voted Leave.”
At the British-irish Council in the Isle of Man, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington, Mrs May’s de facto deputy, said he remained confident of getting a deal through Parliament.
After “frank” exchanges with Mr Lidlington at the event, Nicola Sturgeon said Brexit had highlighted “real weaknesses” in the devolution settlement.
She said: “There have been frustrations on the part of the Scottish Government about lack of engagement and involvement – obviously we’ve had quite heated debates and discussions around power grabs on the devolved parliaments and issues around how the power of the devolved administrations are respected.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “We are at a sensitive point in the negotiations. A successful outcome is not guaranteed but it is possible in the next couple of weeks.”
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The referendum in 2016 was the biggest democratic exercise in this country’s history. We will not under any circumstances have a second referendum.”
Jo Johnson has called for a second vote on Brexit.