MPs ‘will block May’s Brexit plan’

Back down or we will vote you down, says al­liance of Eu­roscep­tics and DUP ahead of Cabi­net meet­ing

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front Page - By Edward Mal­nick WHITE­HALL EDI­TOR

THERESA MAY’S Brexit plan will be blocked by MPs even if she is able to “bounce” the Cabi­net into sign­ing it off, the Prime Min­is­ter has been warned.

Se­nior mem­bers of the Eu­roscep­tic group­ing of Tory back­benchers and Demo­cratic Union­ist Party fig­ures to­day pub­licly unite to in­sist they will vote against Mrs May’s pro­pos­als un­less she backs down.

Their in­ter­ven­tion came as se­nior govern­ment fig­ures warned that the deal would still fall in Par­lia­ment even if it were forced through a re­luc­tant Cabi­net this week. A de­feat for Mrs May would be likely to spark a lead­er­ship chal­lenge.

The warn­ings come amid op­po­si­tion from across the Con­ser­va­tive Party to a pro­posed “back­stop”, or in­sur­ance plan, for the UK’s re­la­tion­ship with the EU if no al­ter­na­tive deal is reached.

Min­is­ters and MPs are con­cerned it could al­low for a bor­der be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the rest of the UK, and would pro­vide an in­suf­fi­cient mech­a­nism for the coun­try to ex­tract it­self from the EU’s struc­tures.

The plan sparked the res­ig­na­tion of Jo John­son, the pro-Re­main trans­port min­is­ter, on Fri­day, on the ba­sis it amounted to “vas­salage” for the UK.

Around 10 Cabi­net min­is­ters have re­jected the idea of an exit mech­a­nism from the back­stop that depends on the EU giv­ing its per­mis­sion for the UK to leave its struc­tures, lead­ing to spec­u­la­tion some may re­sign. But a se­nior Tory claimed the min­is­ters would ul­ti­mately “fall like pa­per tigers” – re­fer­ring to a Chi­nese ex­pres­sion about ob­jects that ap­pear threat­en­ing but are in­ef­fec­tual.

One min­is­ter said: “She could force it through [Cabi­net] with a ma­jor­ity but she wouldn’t get it through the Com­mons”. “The prob­lem is go­ing to be when it gets to the House,” a sec­ond govern­ment fig­ure added.

In a highly un­usual joint warn­ing, Steve Baker, the deputy chair­man of the Euro­pean Re­search Group of back­benchers, and Sammy Wil­son, the DUP Brexit spokesman, to­day state ex­plic­itly that they will vote against the plan if Mrs May re­fuses to back down.

“We share the Prime Min­is­ter’s am­bi­tion for an EU free trade agree­ment, but not at any price and cer­tainly not at the price of our Union. If the Govern­ment makes the historic mis­take of pri­ori­tis­ing pla­cat­ing the EU over es­tab­lish­ing an in­de­pen­dent and whole

UK, then re­gret­tably we must vote against the deal,” they write in The Sun­day Tele­graph.

Some 51 Tories have pub­licly signed a pledge op­pos­ing Mrs May’s Brexit plans. A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of the 13 Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive MPs could also op­pose the plan. Ruth David­son, the Scot­tish Tory leader, and David Mun­dell, the Scot­tish Sec­re­tary, fear that any spe­cial sta­tus that keeps North­ern Ire­land in the sin­gle mar­ket would lead to pressure for a sim­i­lar ar­range­ment for Scot­land. They are also con­cerned over de­mands by Brus­sels for EU boats to be free to fish in UK wa­ters as part of the back­stop deal.

In other de­vel­op­ments:

Se­nior govern­ment fig­ures are dis­cussing the pos­si­bil­ity of a new leader taking over from Mrs May and “re­set­ting” the ne­go­ti­a­tions – in­clud­ing strength­en­ing plan­ning for a “no deal” out­come – if Euro­pean judges rule later this month that the UK can re­voke the Ar­ti­cle 50 no­tice re­quir­ing a with­drawal agree­ment by next March. They be­lieve such a rul­ing could of­fer a re­place­ment leader “breath­ing space” to bro­ker a new deal.

A dozen Tory as­so­ci­a­tion chair­men have signed a let­ter in­sist­ing “no deal” is bet­ter than the cur­rent of­fer. They back calls by Cabi­net Brex­i­teers for a uni­lat­eral exit mech­a­nism, which has been re­jected by Brus­sels. With­out it, the deal will “fly in the face of the ref­er­en­dum re­sult” and “run to­tally con­trary to Tory val­ues”.

Martin Howe, a pro-Leave QC, said cur­rent plans for a “re­view mech­a­nism” to ex­tract the UK from the back­stop, risk “drop­ping the UK into a le­gal

black hole for prob­a­bly a num­ber of years and quite pos­si­bly for longer”.

On Fri­day night a re­port claimed that the mech­a­nism, talked up by Ge­of­frey Cox, the At­tor­ney Gen­eral, as a po­ten­tial so­lu­tion, had al­ready been re­jected by the EU.

In a sign of grow­ing con­cern in No10 over the prospects of Mrs May’s plan be­ing ap­proved by Par­lia­ment, a Down­ing Street source in­sisted last night that she would not agree a deal “at any cost”.

The DUP’s 10 MPs have been prop­ping up the Govern­ment since last year’s elec­tion. Mrs May has pledged not to al­low North­ern Ire­land to be di­vided from the rest of the UK af­ter Brexit, amid the EU’s in­sis­tence that spe­cial ar­range­ments would be re­quired for the re­gion in or­der to avoid a hard bor­der with the Re­pub­lic if no other deal is reached.

But a let­ter from Mrs May last week led the party to be­lieve she was pre­par­ing to al­low North­ern Ire­land-only mea­sures in the di­vorce deal, on the ba­sis they would never come into force.

Yes­ter­day, Ar­lene Foster, the leader of the Demo­cratic Union­ists, said her party op­posed Mrs May’s plans and that they en­joyed “sup­port from MPs across the United King­dom”.

To­day’s joint warn­ing by Mr Baker and Mr Wil­son sig­nals that the DUP would work with the Euro­pean Re­search Group, led by Ja­cob Rees-Mogg, to de­feat the deal. They say: “If Par­lia­ment is forced to re­ject the Govern­ment’s deal, then we will once again have called the bluff of vested in­ter­est lob­by­ists and White­hall scare­mon­gers.”

There were signs last night that Mrs May was pre­par­ing to bow to de­mands to show Cabi­net min­is­ters the full le­gal ad­vice by Mr Cox, on the back­stop, be­fore ask­ing them to sign off on the pro­pos­als.

Con­ser­va­tive sources pre­dicted that Mrs May would at­tempt to buy off min­is­ters over the back­stop by promis­ing a fu­ture deal sim­i­lar to the ar­range­ment be­tween Canada and Brus­sels that was favoured by Boris John­son. How­ever, one source in­sisted that with spe­cial ar­range­ments in place for North­ern Ire­land the deal would only be for Bri­tain, ef­fec­tively split­ting the union.

The let­ter stat­ing that a “no deal” out­come was prefer­able to the cur­rent so­lu­tion was signed by 12 as­so­ci­a­tion chair­man in­clud­ing Anthony Owen, who chairs Jo John­son’s Or­p­ing­ton party – putting him at odds with his MP.

The chair­men said Mrs May’s Che­quers plan for a fu­ture re­la­tion­ship with the EU al­ready amounted to a “sig­nif­i­cant blow” to the coun­try’s sovereignty, and warned that the back­stop pro­pos­als could go fur­ther by see­ing the UK agree to abide by a se­ries of EU reg­u­la­tions.

“Let­ting the EU dic­tate how our com­pa­nies are run would amount to to­tal ca­pit­u­la­tion,” they state, in a let­ter or­gan­ised by the Stand Up 4 Brexit cam­paign group.

A Down­ing Street source said: “We should aim to con­clude the With­drawal Agree­ment as soon as pos­si­ble but we will not do this at any cost.

“There are a num­ber of is­sues that need to be worked through on the North­ern Ire­land back­stop and th­ese are the most dif­fi­cult.

“They in­clude en­sur­ing that, if it is ever needed, it is not per­ma­nent and there is a mech­a­nism to en­sure the UK could not be held in the ar­range­ment in­def­i­nitely.”

‘Let­ting EU dic­tate how com­pa­nies are run would amount to to­tal ca­pit­u­la­tion’

Theresa May faces a Brexit back­stop bat­tle

Jo John­son, right, the Con­ser­va­tive MP who re­signed as trans­port min­is­ter yes­ter­day and called for a sec­ond Brexit ref­er­en­dum, leaves Broad­cast­ing House with Stan­ley John­son, his fa­ther

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