Eurosceptic Conservative MPs will still vote down the government’s Brexit deal even if Theresa May negotiates an exit clause from the Irish backstop, the former minister Steve Baker has insisted.
May’s cabinet has been locked in a bitter internal wrangle about whether, and how, the government could extricate itself from the backstop, with some ministers concerned her plans could leave the UK in a permanent limbo.
The prime minister hopes to win the backing of her ministers for a draft withdrawal agreement at a special cabinet meeting likely to take place early next week.
But Baker, a leading figure in the backbench European Research Group (ERG), said Conservative MPs would be closely scrutinising the accompanying political declaration setting out the framework for the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU27.
“In the end, it’s not really about the backstop,” he said. “The tearing frustration is that the UK has been negotiating with itself.
“Many of us have long believed that the row over the backstop is at least partly confected in order to have an orchestrated breakthrough”.
In the letter May said she would never allow a divide between the province and Britain “to come into force”. The Times said this had been interpreted by the DUP as a sign that the clause will be inserted into the legally binding agreement.
May relies on the support of the DUP’s 10 MPs for her Commons majority, votes that may become crucial as she attempts to get a deal through parliament. However, Foster told the Times that May’s letter “raises alarm bells for those who value the integrity of our precious union and for those who want a proper Brexit for the whole of the UK”.
Baker said that he and his pro-leave colleagues would focus their attention on the declaration. “Conservative MPs expect to get some commitment for the money. The overwhelming attitude of Conservative MPs is that paying £39bn for nothing is totally unacceptable,” he said.
The government hopes it can win over Tory sceptics and some Labour MPs with firm reassurances that the Irish backstop will not be indefinite.
But Baker said few would be convinced. If the deal is voted down, he predicted there would be a moment of “profound political crisis”, during which Eurosceptic Tory MPs would be able to shift the government’s negotiating stance towards a looser future relationship with the EU.
Downing Street refuses to be drawn on any specific timetable, but both sides appear poised for a breakthrough:
Theresa May is likely to convene a special cabinet meeting on Monday. Ministers would be asked to sign up to her negotiating position, including on the Irish backstop, backed by legal advice from the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox.
Dominic Raab would then travel to Brussels to meet Barnier, whom the government hopes would conclude that enough progress had been made to convene a special Brexit summit at the end of this month.
The government would publish the draft withdrawal agreement and the outline of the political declaration on a future trading relationship, perhaps as soon as next Wednesday, for MPs to scrutinise.
May would then pour all the government’s energy into selling the deal to sceptical MPs on all sides of the Commons, in the run-up to the meaningful vote, which would probably take place in early December.
If cabinet cannot agree, or Barnier decides insufficient progress has been made, there will not be a November summit, a final decision will be delayed until December, and MPs could find themselves voting on the deal just days before Christmas.
You can read the entire article here: Tory Brexiters planning to reject deal even with backstop exit clause