Brexit reaction: May and Cox have merely 'sowed an apron of fig leaves' over UK's Brexit 'indignity', says Boris Johnson




Pro-Brexit supporters outside the British parliament today.

Update: Britain's former Brexit secretary Boris Johnson said the British Prime Minister and Attorney General had merely sowed an “apron of fig leaves” to cover the embarrassment of the Brexit deal.

The Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP said: “The result is like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden – they have sowed an apron of fig leaves that does nothing to conceal the embarrassment and indignity of the UK.”

Brexit reaction: May and Cox have merely 'sowed an apron of fig leaves' over UK's Brexit 'indignity', says Boris Johnson

Update: Conservative MP for Mansfield Ben Bradley told the Press Association: “We’ve got the legal text and the Attorney General’s advice which makes it clear that the risk has reduced for being tied to something permanently, but it is not totally gone.

“The deal doesn’t fulfil everything we’ve asked for but we have to weigh things up with balance. To me, the reduced risk of being tied into something is preferable at this point to the ever-increasing risk of delay or no Brexit at all.

“Parliament is determined to make this as difficult as possible and I’m now at the stage where if we are going to leave on the 29th the only way that’s going to happen is with this deal. I don’t like it but we are going to have to play the ball where it lies as we speak and just get things done.

“I really fear for what could happen. It seems as though this won’t pass tonight, or tomorrow when Parliament may have to extend Article 50, which my constituents won’t be happy with.

“The best course of action now is to pass the deal and leave, then we can think about the long term relationship and live to fight another day.”

Britain's Defence minister Tobias Ellwood said Tory Eurosceptics should support the latest version of the Prime Minister’s deal.

He said: “This has been a long journey. This is the mother of all parliaments and the mother of all votes. The clock is ticking down, and she [Theresa May] has provided some assurances.

“It’s now turned more political than it has legal, where individuals are looking for ladders to climb down from the positions they have taken.

“The bottom line is, if we don’t get this deal across the line then we head towards a lighter, softer Brexit or potentially no Brexit at all, and that must be the wake up call for any individual thinking of voting against the Prime Minister.”

Earlier: 'Very likely' MPs will delay Brexit if Theresa May's deal fails, says Sammy Wilson

The DUP's Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said it was “very likely” that there will be “probably successful” attempts to delay Brexit if the British Prime Minister’s deal is rejected.

He told Sky News: “It looks very likely that on Thursday if the vote doesn’t go through tonight, on Thursday there will be attempts in the House and probably successful attempts in the House to extend the time in which we stay within the EU.”

Mr Wilson said if an extension of Article 50 was voted through the Commons that “after the end of June we will have to leave the EU because we have not participated in the European elections”.

Update: ERG chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg said he had not yet decided which way to vote and would await a meeting of the Eurosceptic group at 5pm before making up his mind.

Mr Rees-Mogg said that abstention on such a serious issue was not “a realistic prospect” for many British MPs.

“The question we really have to look at is ‘When the Prime Minister says the risk of not voting for her deal is that we don’t leave, is that a serious risk or is that a phantom?'” he told Sky News.

Brexit reaction: May and Cox have merely 'sowed an apron of fig leaves' over UK's Brexit 'indignity', says Boris Johnson

“My current view is that it is basically a phantom and, therefore, it is safe to vote against this deal again tonight and look to leaving on March 29 without a deal.

“But what she said has to be taken seriously and considered. It’s not a risk I would like to take if it is a real one.”

Mr Rees-Mogg played down the prospect of Mrs May being forced out by a heavy defeat, saying: “If it is less than 230, the Prime Minister will be able to say she is making some progress, so I wouldn’t worry about the Prime Minister’s position.”

Mr Corbyn said: “If this deal narrowly scrapes through tonight, I don’t think it will, but if it did, we believe the option should be to go back to the people for a confirmatory vote on it, if that is the case, but we do not believe it should go through.”

He said: “The Prime Minister set herself a series of objectives, she hasn’t met any of those objectives, she’s brought back exactly the same deal and expects us to vote on it again, I hope the House rejects it.”

“The Prime Minister is stuck in a groove that believes only her deal is the thing that should be voted on, she wasn’t listening to what we were saying or what was included in our letter, and that is really the problem. The documents in front of us offer no clarity and no certainty.”

Brexit reaction: May and Cox have merely 'sowed an apron of fig leaves' over UK's Brexit 'indignity', says Boris Johnson

He went on: “It’s simply not good enough to vote for a blindfold Brexit, so we will vote against this deal tonight as I urge all members to do.”

“It’s simply not good enough to vote for a blindfold Brexit, so we will vote against this deal tonight as I urge all members to do.”

Update: Responding to Mrs May, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said “not a single word” of the Withdrawal Agreement had changed.

He said: “After three months of running down the clock the Prime Minister has, despite very extensive delays, achieved not a single change to the Withdrawal Agreement – not one single word has changed.

“In terms of the substance, literally nothing has changed … There is no unilateral exit mechanism, there is no time limit, there are no alternative arrangements.”

Mr Corbyn accused the British Government of trying to “fool” its own backbenchers and the British people over its Brexit deal.

He said: “The unilateral statement is a weak Government trying to fool its own backbenchers because the EU has not even signed up to it.”

He continued: “The Government is in real problems because they are trying to fool the people into somehow believing that somehow or other the deal she has offered is the only one that is available.

“It is not and they very well know that.”

Mrs May urged MPs to back the deal, saying: “It was not this House that decided it was time for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, it was the British people.

Pro-Brexit supporters outside the British parliament today.
Pro-Brexit supporters outside the British parliament today.

“It falls to us here to implement their decision, their desire for change, their demand for a better, more open, more successful future for our country.

“Today is the day that we can begin to build that future.”

The PM added: “Let us show what this House can achieve when we come together, let us demonstrate what politics is for.

“Let us prove beyond all doubt we believe democracy comes before party, faction or personal ambition.”

She finished by saying: “The time has come to deliver on the instruction we were given. The time has come to back this deal and I commend this motion to the House.”

Update: After the DUP announced they would not be supporting the deal, Britain's Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry tweeted: "The government will not get their deal through parliament tonight. The only question is, how big will the defeat be?"

Former UK Brexit secretary David Davis said many MPs would prefer a circumstance where the UK could have unilaterally withdrawn from the agreement, and this did not apply following remarks from Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.

He said: “That means we’re going to a circumstance where there’d be a deal of trust with respect to how we resolve the backstop, and in particular over the issue of whether the alternative arrangements prove acceptable to the European Union and the Republic of Ireland.

“Some of those alternative arrangements were ones that were previously rejected by the union and Republic of Ireland. Can she tell the House whether she has detected any change in mood on the part of the EU and the Republic (of Ireland) with respect to a constructive outcome in dealing with the Northern Ireland border?”

Mrs May replied: “Yes, I think what has been obvious is a change in willingness from the EU to be actively working on those alternative arrangements.

“It was not possible to complete that work in time for the timetable we currently have re March 29.

“But the firm commitments have been given in the documents … show that willingness on their side to be actively working with us to find those alternative arrangements and find them in a way that means the backstop can indeed be replaced.”

On the political declaration, Mrs May said: “I’m sure we can all learn lessons from how we approach this first phase of the negotiations as we move onto the second.

“For my part, I’ve no doubt that the Government does need to build a strong consensus in the House before we go onto negotiate the future relationship. Not least to ensure the process of ratification is smoother than that for the withdrawal agreement.

Theresa May addressing Commons this afternoon.
Theresa May addressing Commons this afternoon.

“That’s why we’ve committed to give a much stronger and clearer role for this House, and for the other place during the next phase. Not just a consensus in parliament either, businesses, trade unions and civil society must all play a much bigger part contributing their expertise in a collective national effort to secure the very best future relationship with the EU.

“That new approach will start with the withdrawal agreement Bill if the deal passes tonight, notice of presentation will be given tomorrow and the Bill will be introduced on Thursday.”

Update: Mrs May reeled off a list of “core elements” she said were delivered by the deal.

She said: “It sends a message to the whole world about the sort of country the UK will be in the years and decades ahead … To our friends and allies who have long looked up to us as a beacon of pragmatism and decency and a message to those who do not share our values and whose interests diverge from ours. It says this: the UK is a country that honours the democratic decisions taken by our people in referendums and in elections.”

She added: “I believe that we should be delivering on the vote of the British people in 2016, but I also believe it is important that we give businesses … the certainty for their future, and there is only one certainty if we do not pass this vote tonight, and that is that uncertainty will continue for our citizens and for our businesses.”

“We are a country where passionately-held views do not stop us from making compromises to achieve progress. We’re a country that values both our national sovereignty and the unbreakable bonds of a shared history.”

“A bad deal would be even worse than no deal, but best of all is a good deal, and this is a good deal.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “We welcome the progress the European Commission and the British Government have made on the withdrawal agreement.

“The SDLP welcomes the continued protection for the backstop and the recommitment to avoiding a hard border in Ireland.

“We are hopeful that the deal passes tonight to ensure exiting without a deal is avoided.”

Update: The DUP has indicated that the party will not support Theresa May’s deal saying in a statement “that sufficient progress has not been achieved at this time”.

A DUP spokesman said: “The Prime Minister set out a clear objective for legally binding change which would command a majority in the House of Commons in line with the Brady amendment.

"We recognise that the Prime Minister has made limited progress in her discussions with the European Union. However, in our view sufficient progress has not been achieved at this time.

Theresa May addressing Commons this afternoon.
Theresa May addressing Commons this afternoon.

“Having carefully considered the published material as well as measuring what has been achieved against our own fundamental tests, namely the impact of the backstop on the constitutional and economic integrity of the Union of the United Kingdom, it is clear that the risks remain that the UK would be unable to lawfully exit the backstop were it to be activated.

“The Attorney General’s legal advice is clear in his last paragraph ‘the legal risk remains unchanged that if through no such demonstrable failure of either party, but simply because of intractable differences, that situation does arise, the United Kingdom would have, at least while the fundamental circumstances remained the same, no internationally lawful means of exiting the protocol’s arrangements, save by agreement’.

“We want to see a deal which works for every part of the United Kingdom. We will support the right deal which respects the referendum result and Northern Ireland’s place as an integral part of the United Kingdom.

“The European Union has been intransigent. It is possible to reach a sensible deal which works for the United Kingdom and the European Union but it will require all sides to be reasonable and in deal making mode.”

Theresa May, battling a croaky voice and with husband Philip watching from the gallery, told MPs that “Brexit could be lost” if her deal is rejected.

The British Prime Minister told the Commons:

The danger for those of us who want to have faith in the British public and deliver on their vote for Brexit, is that if this vote is not passed tonight, if this deal is not passed, then Brexit could be lost.

Update: Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) asked: “(He) has pointed out that much of what is being said is political as well as legal. Could he, therefore, set out for the House what penalties there might fall upon this country if a future parliament, which obviously cannot be bound, were to decide to resile from the commitments under the backstop?”

Mr Cox replied: “Well he will know that as an Attorney General I simply couldn’t give countenance to the idea that this country would break its international legal obligations.”

Brexit reaction: May and Cox have merely 'sowed an apron of fig leaves' over UK's Brexit 'indignity', says Boris Johnson

He added: “A sovereign state has the right to withdraw if a treaty is no longer compatible with its fundamental interests or (its) fundamental circumstances putting it a different way have changed.

“So I would say that apart from that, of course, this country could resile from its commitments, it would be unwise and it would not be in the tradition of this country to do so, and in those circumstances it’s perfectly true that the only remedies that the Union would have would be to take counter-measures and no doubt it would pollute the atmosphere for fruitful relationships between us.

“Which is precisely why this country will never do it and neither would the EU.”

Update: Charles Walker, vice chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, said defeat in the meaningful vote would lead to a general election.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “If it doesn’t go through tonight, as sure as night follows day, there will be a general election within a matter of days or weeks.

“It is not sustainable, the current situation in Parliament.”

Mr Walker, who is chairman of the Commons Procedure Committee, said: “The country deserves more than this. It elects Members of Parliament to make decisions.

“We need to make a decision tonight and that has to be to let this deal pass.”

Update: Sky News is reporting that the DUP have said they "cannot support" Theresa May's revised Brexit deal in tonight's Commons vote.

In response to Mr Dodds, Mr Cox said: “My opinion has changed in connection with the ability of this country to prove bad faith if it occurred.

“There is now a new conditional framework for judging whether the other party is using best endeavours or good faith.”

And he said given that a “specific work-track has been laid out” with a timetable to replace the backstop, it would be “unconscionable” if the EU “never agreed to use a single one” and refused every proposal.

The Attorney General said he believed that would give the UK a case to unilaterally leave the backstop, and addressing the DUP Westminster leader he added: “He knows I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.

“It’s there in my written statement, I urge him to consider it.”

Update: The Leave-backing European Research Group has recommended MPs do not back Theresa May’s Brexit deal after its so-called Star Chamber determined that the Government’s new Brexit agreement does not meet the tests set for it.

Conservative MP Sir Bill Cash, a member of the European Research Group’s Star Chamber, said: “In the light of our own legal analysis and others we do not recommend accepting the Government’s motion today.”

The ERG’s Star Chamber released conclusions which said: “Yesterday’s documents considered individually and collectively do not deliver ‘legally binding changes’ to the WA (Withdrawal Agreement) or to the (backstop) Protocol.

“They fail to fulfil the commitment made by Government to the House in response to the Brady amendment ‘to obtain legally binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement’.”

Mrs May’s Strasbourg agreements “do not provide any exit mechanism from the Protocol which is under the UK’s control”, said the Star Chamber group, made up of legally-trained Tory MPs Sir Bill Cash, David Jones, Dominic Raab, Suella Braverman, Michael Tomlinson and Robert Courts, the DUP’s Nigel Dodds and QC Michael Howe.

The DUP's Nigel Dodds said: “Would he agree that in relation to the reduction in risk of being held in the backstop in relation to the EU acting in bad faith or want of best endeavours, does he agree with his previous advice of paragraph 29 that all the EU would have to show good faith will be to consider the UK’s proposals – even if they ultimately reject them – this could go on repeatedly without such conduct giving rise to bad faith or failure?

“And on the point about if it isn’t a question of bad faith but if it’s just a question that the two sides can’t reach agreement, he is saying in paragraph 19 that his legal opinion is the legal risk remains unchanged.

Brexit reaction: May and Cox have merely 'sowed an apron of fig leaves' over UK's Brexit 'indignity', says Boris Johnson

“We know already from the Irish government and others what they see as the ultimate destination for Northern Ireland – the backstop is the bottom line.

“From what the Attorney General is saying today, provided there is no bad faith, the fact is that Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom could be trapped if it’s a question that the EU does not agree with the United Kingdom to a superseding agreement.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan posted on Twitter: “For all the chaos, confusion and noise, fundamentally nothing has changed about Theresa May’s Brexit deal. This has always been a bad deal that would cause huge damage to our economy, reduce opportunities for the next generation and weaken our standing in the world.”

He continued: “The government needs to urgently withdraw Article 50. As Parliament is in gridlock, the only way to make progress is to give the British public the final say on one of the biggest decisions in our nation’s history.

“I urge all MPs to act in the best interests of their constituents and reject this bad deal. And over the coming days, MPs should vote to remove the risk of a catastrophic no-deal Brexit and extend Article 50 to give us the time we need to fix this mess.”

The Attorney General said he had never claimed there was an “ultimate unilateral right out of this arrangement”.

He said: “The question is whether there is a likelihood, politically… What this document does is address the risk that we could be kept in the backstop by the bad faith and deliberate manipulation of the EU.”

He continued: “It would be a good thing if we could hear from the Labour Party occasionally more than just political shenanigans but some sincere engagement with the real issues this Withdrawal Agreement now raises.”

Update: The Financial Times is reporting a DUP source has told them that they cannot see a way to support Theresa May's deal.

Eurosceptic Conservative MP Michael Fabricant tweeted that tonight’s vote “all hinges” on the DUP.

“If it’s good enough for them, it’ll be good enough for me. If they don’t support it, the motion will fail tonight in any event.”

Update: Britain's Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has confirmed that the legal risk remains "unchanged" that the UK would have no legal means of exiting the backstop without EU agreement.

Mr Cox said Britain cannot leave the backstop by itself as it still needs the EU to agree.

In his statement to the Commons on his Brexit legal advice, Mr Cox said: “They are not about a situation where despite the parties properly fulfilling the duties of good faith and best endeavours they cannot reach an agreement on a future relationship – such an event, in my opinion, is highly unlikely to occur and it is both in the interests of the UK and the EU to agree a future relationship as quickly as possible.

Brexit reaction: May and Cox have merely 'sowed an apron of fig leaves' over UK's Brexit 'indignity', says Boris Johnson

“Were such a situation to occur, however, let me make it clear – the legal risk, as I set it out in my letter of November 13, remains unchanged.

“The question for the House is whether in the light of these improvements, as a political judgment, the House should now enter into those arrangements.”

He went on to tell the House of Commons that the joint instrument in the agreement confirms that the EU cannot pursue trying to trap the UK in the backstop indefinitely. He said it also reflects the commitment to replace the backstop by alternative arrangements by 2020.

Mr Cox went on to explain what the changes “do achieve”, saying: “As I set out in my opinion the joint instrument puts the commitments in the letter from Mr Tusk and Mr Juncker of the 14th of January 2019 into legally-binding form.

“And provides in addition useful clarifications, amplifications of existing obligations, and some new obligations.”

The Attorney General said the document “confirms that the European Union cannot pursue an objective of trying to trap the United Kingdom in the backstop indefinitely”.

He said it makes it explicit that “this would constitute bad faith” and form the basis for a case at the arbitration panel on such matters.

Mr Cox added: “This means ultimately that the protocol could be suspended if the European Union continued to breach its obligations.”

Mr Cox said the documents confirm work will take place to replace the backstop with “alternative arrangements” by December 2020.

But he was heckled by Labour MPs who laughed when he said that “if an agreement has not been concluded within one year of the UK’s withdrawal efforts must be redoubled”.

He went on to say: “In my view, the provisions of the joint instrument extend further than mere interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement, and represent materially new legal obligations and commitments which enhances its existing terms.”

He added: “The clarifications and amplified obligations contained in the joint statements and the unilateral declaration provide a substantive and binding reinforcement of the legal rights available to the United Kingdom in the event that the union were to fail in its duties of good faith and best endeavours.”

Mr Cox said he had set out the “legal effect” of the new documents, but added: “However, the law affecting withdrawal can only inform what is essentially a political decision that each of us must make.

“This is a question not of the Government’s lawful action, but of the prudence as a matter of policy and political judgement of entering into an international agreement on the terms proposed.”

He then told the Commons that the time has come to vote for the deal, saying there is a clear pathway to the termination of the backstop.

Chancellor Philip Hammond tweeted: “@theresa_may has secured significant new legal assurances to what was already a good deal. Now is the time to #BacktheBrexitDeal. Let’s get this done and focus on building Britain’s brighter future.”

Earlier: New Brexit deal 'needs the DUP'; Attorney General to make statement

Britain's former international development minister Grant Sharps said the vote would be close and “needed the DUP”.

He said: “One colleague said he was looking for her to bring back a rabbit but she had only managed a hamster – but he said that was good enough for him.

“I think that was Charlie Elphicke.

“Some colleagues are coming across.”

A member of the hard Brexit European Research Group (ERG), Mark Francois, has said he was “wholly unconvinced” by Mrs May’s improved deal.

He said: “Question after question after question was directed at her on the legal advice and particularly on paragraph 19 of the Attorney General’s statement where he makes the critical observation ‘however the legal risk remains unchanged’.

“Colleague after colleague asked about that.

“It’s for individual colleagues to judge and obviously they will listen to what the Attorney General says in his statement at 12.30…

Brexit reaction: May and Cox have merely 'sowed an apron of fig leaves' over UK's Brexit 'indignity', says Boris Johnson

“Speaking purely and entirely for myself I regret to say I found the Prime Minister’s answers ultimately unconvincing.”

Earlier: New Brexit deal 'strengthens' protections against EU 'trapping' UK, says UK Brexit Secretary

Brexiteer former Cabinet minister John Whittingdale suggested the Attorney General’s advice was “pretty terminal”.

He told Britain's Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay that the advice “reads very much as if nothing, actually, has changed”.

Appearing at the Brexit Select Committee, Mr Barclay said: “I don’t accept that because one has got to look at this as a package, not in isolation.

Britain's Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay.
Britain's Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay.

“I accept the point that if both sides are negotiating in good faith, that is what the final paragraph (of the Attorney General’s advice) is referring to and therefore there will need to be an arrangement.”

But he said there “has been a strengthening” in protections against the EU acting in bad faith to “trap” the UK “and the Attorney’s advice recognises it”.

The Brexit Secretary told Mr Whittingdale: “It does not go as far as you would like, I accept that. But it does allow for this issue of bad faith and the UK being trapped, and that is the issue that politically kept coming up in the Chamber.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg repeatedly pressed Stephen Barclay on whether the UK could unilaterally pull out of the backstop and suggested “we can’t leave it without the permission of the EU”.

He added: “The unilateral declaration doesn’t add anything because it simply says ‘we could ask to leave the backstop’. We’ve always been able to ask to leave the backstop, that is not in any sense an improvement or a development.”

Mr Barclay told him “I don’t accept that”, adding: “This is both a question of legal interpretation and political interpretation.

“The starting point for this is that neither side wants to go into the backstop, there are safeguards to prevent it.”

The British Prime Minister Theresa May swept past waiting journalists outside 10 Downing Street with a tight smile but made no comment.

Brexit reaction: May and Cox have merely 'sowed an apron of fig leaves' over UK's Brexit 'indignity', says Boris Johnson

Members of the hard Brexit European Research Group (ERG) led by Jacob Rees-Mogg said they were keeping an open mind.

Mark Francois said: “I’m going to listen to what the Prime Minister has to say.”

Steve Baker said: “No comment.”

ERG member Andrew Bridgen said: “I’m going to see what she says.”

He then said “nothing has changed” as he left the meeting after about five minutes.

Update: In his legal advice on Theresa May’s Strasbourg agreement, Britain's Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said that new provisions “reduce the risk” of the UK being “indefinitely and involuntarily” held in the backstop, but said that “the legal risk remains unchanged” that the UK would have no legal means of exiting without EU agreement.

He wrote in his legal advice on the Strasbourg agreements: "I now consider that the legally binding provisions of the Joint Instrument and the content of the Unilateral Declaration reduce the risk that the United Kingdom could be indefinitely and involuntarily detained within the Protocol's provisions at least in so far as that situation had been brought about by the bad faith or want of best endeavours of the EU.

"It may be thought that if both parties deploy a sincere desire to reach agreement and the necessary diligence, flexibility and goodwill implied by the amplified duties set out in the Joint Instrument, it is highly unlikely that a satisfactory subsequent agreement to replace the Protocol will not be concluded.

Brexit reaction: May and Cox have merely 'sowed an apron of fig leaves' over UK's Brexit 'indignity', says Boris Johnson

"But as I have previously advised, that is a political judgment, which, given the mutual incentives of the parties and the available options and competing risks, I remain strongly of the view it is right to make.

"However, the legal risk remains unchanged that if through no such demonstrable failure of either party, but simply because of intractable differences, that situation does arise, the United Kingdom would have, at least while the fundamental circumstances remained the same, no internationally lawful means of exiting the Protocol's arrangements, save by agreement."

You can read his legal advice in full here.

Earlier: Labour MP tweets photo of Theresa May's 'contrick Brexit'

Britain's Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will make a Commons statement on his legal opinion on the Brexit package at around 12.30pm.

The Chief Whip of the DUP, Jeffrey Donaldson, says that his party has not come to a decision yet on new EU backstop measures.

“We will have to take time to study it and look at the legal consequences,” he told RTE radio’s Morning Ireland.

“We await the Attorney General’s response, we certainly need greater clarity.

“We will take our own counsel. His (Attorney General) interpretation is important, his role is to give the legal view. But in the end, we will take our own counsel and come to a decision.”

Mr Donaldson said he wants to see if the British Attorney General’s legal advice has changed from the position he took previously in relation to the backstop.

Brexit reaction: May and Cox have merely 'sowed an apron of fig leaves' over UK's Brexit 'indignity', says Boris Johnson

When asked if the vote on the withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons today should be deferred, Mr Donldson said “we could do with more time to come to a definitive agreement.”

Labour MP Owen Smith tweeted an image of the latest printed version of the Withdrawal Agreement alongside the one rejected by MPs in January.

He wrote: "The 'new' Withdrawal Agreement' is half the size of the 'old' one! Not a single word in it has changed... but they've pathetically altered the pagination to make it look different.

"The perfect symbol of Theresa May's contrick Brexit," he added.

Conservative MP John Redwood says he still believes that the UK leaving the EU without an agreement on March 29th is the best option.

The withdrawal agreement is not the best option for the UK, he told RTE radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke. He believes that even if there is no deal when the UK leaves the EU there will not be a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Stressing that he was speaking in a personal capacity, not as a member of the European Research Group, Mr Redwood said that he would await the advice of the Attorney General along with the advice of the group’s own team of lawyers, led by Bill Cash.

The withdrawal agreement is wrong and leaves too much power in the hands of the EU and the European Court of Arbitration, he added.

Mr Redwood said his colleagues are very fair-minded and he is certain they “will stick to what they believe.”

If the withdrawal agreement has not changed it will be difficult to vote for, he said.

Brexit reaction: May and Cox have merely 'sowed an apron of fig leaves' over UK's Brexit 'indignity', says Boris Johnson

Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Conservative MPs, said he had not decided which way he would vote on Mrs May's deal, but added "there must be a chance" of a further renegotiation with the EU.

"I would never take the EU saying 'there will be no change' at face value, because they said there would be no second round, and there has been," he said.

"Ultimately it has to be decided by the Council of Ministers. So I think this is closer to the deal, but if the Prime Minister was to ask for more, there must be a chance, yes.

"I don't operate on gut feeling. We've got to decide legally whether this works or not.

"We're [the ERG] a very collegiate body. We're not like the government, where the Prime Minister decides and then the whips go out and tell people what to do. We'll have a meeting at 6 o'clock and we will debate the issues surrounding this.

"I think on this issue, in reality, MPs will make up their own minds."

In a legal opinion, Lord Anderson QC, Jason Coppel QC and Sean Aughey said: "It is crystal clear that the measures do not alter the fundamental legal effect of the backstop, as previously and correctly explained by the Attorney General."

The advice, commissioned by the UK's People's Vote campaign for a second referendum, added: "The backstop will endure indefinitely, unless and until superseded by another agreement, save in the extreme and unlikely event that in future negotiations the EU acts in bad faith in rejecting the UK's demands."

Former British attorney general Dominic Grieve said: "I have had the chance to look at the document produced last night and I'm quite clear in my mind it does not allow the UK to terminate the backstop in the event of a breakdown in negotiation; it does not allow the UK to terminate the backstop at a time of its own choosing. The advice issued today from Lord Anderson, Jason Coppel and Sean Aughey reinforces my view.

"In Parliament today I will continue to argue that the agreement does not bear any relationship to what we were offered in the last referendum of 2016. It is significantly different and therefore it should go back to the people - they have a right to vote on this and decide whether to go ahead."

Earlier: Theresa May 'seems to fall short' of her promises, says Sammy Wilson

Sammy Wilson has said Theresa May's agreement with the EU from last night "seems to fall short" of what she had promised.

It comes after Mrs May returned from meeting EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker with what she insists are the “legally binding” changes to her Brexit deal that were requested by the UK Parliament.

Mr Wilson told a UK radio station, LBC: "We had made it quite clear we expected legally-binding changes which would ensure our government solely had control over any backstop, that those legally-binding changes would ensure that in the future arrangements with Europe we would have control over our trade, laws and money. And that those legally-binding changes would ensure the integrity of the union.

"I have got to say if you look at what the prime minister has said so far it seems to fall short of what she herself had promised."

"She is simply saying it reduces the chances of us being kept in the backstop.

Mr Wilson said he wanted listen to advice from the UK's Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and the "best people" in order to give "due diligence" to what changes had been made before tonight's vote.

"But we want to hear the views of others," he said.

Earlier: DUP not averse to postponing today's vote, says Sammy Wilson

By Vivienne Clarke and Press Association

The DUP’s Sammy Wilson says his party is not averse to the postponement of today’s vote in the House of Commons about the withdrawal agreement.

“If the government wants full scrutiny and not to be accused of rail roading this through, then there is the option to put the vote off, we wouldn’t be averse to that,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.

Sammy Wilson
Sammy Wilson

The DUP will listen to the British Attorney General’s advice, talk to colleagues across Northern Ireland, members of the Conservative Party and will also seek independent legal advice, he said.

“We will give it a fair hearing. All those things will go into the mix before making a decision.

“We have set out our criteria to back any deal, if they are not met then we will vote against it.”

Mr Wilson said that the decision was not be the DUP’s responsibility alone. “At the end of the day it will be a collective decision.

“We have to gain control over our laws and trade, if the agreement doesn’t give us that then we won’t support any agreement.”

He added that it was reasonable for some to point out that today’s vote should be deferred “because there is so much to be examined.”

Tory pro-European Dominic Grieve said he would vote against the deal because it "bears no resemblance" to what was debated in the 2016 referendum, and that the "proper thing" to do was back a second people's vote.

The former UK attorney general told BBC Breakfast: "To drag the country out of the EU on these terms seems to me a very unsatisfactory and undemocratic thing to do.

Brexit reaction: May and Cox have merely 'sowed an apron of fig leaves' over UK's Brexit 'indignity', says Boris Johnson

"If the public want to leave on these terms... so be it. But for us to leave on these terms, which I have to say take us into a second-rate relationship for the future and one which I think will do this country economic harm, I am unwilling to do without the public confirming their view."

He added: "I'm not prepared to see someone sign off something which in my view is going to be very damaging for our country's future."

However, Brexit minister Kwasi Kwarteng said the latest deal is a "huge improvement" on the original one, adding that he is hopeful the DUP will support it and other MPs will follow.

He told BBC Breakfast: "I'm hoping that the DUP are looking at it, they haven't rejected it out of hand, they've said that they're going to consider what's happened and I think once they consider it I'm very hopeful that they will actually support the deal and I think if they do support the deal many of my colleagues in the Conservative party, ERG members and others, will be able to support the deal."

Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group of Brexiteer MPs, said the "Star Chamber" of lawyers was about to examine the deal.

"I'm not sure that the agreements with the EU are a major change, that they continue to be promises of goodwill, and we have heard what the Irish have to say," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"So my focus will be on whether the unilateral declaration is genuinely unilateral."

Brexit reaction: May and Cox have merely 'sowed an apron of fig leaves' over UK's Brexit 'indignity', says Boris Johnson

He added that "many Conservatives will be heavily influenced by the DUP's view".

Mr Rees-Mogg also said the process had been "desperately rushed" and called for the vote to be delayed until tomorrow to give more time to examine the documents.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted: "These changes were hard fought for. They preserve the UK's right to act unilaterally in our sovereign national interest. PM has listened to parliament's concerns so time to back to deal and avoid risk of customs union or no Brexit."

British Environment Secretary Michael Gove said it was "make your mind up time" for MPs on the "new, improved deal".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We have an improvement on the Withdrawal Agreement that was presented to the House of Commons in January. That improvement ensures that we have additional legal weight behind our position.

"It also ensures that, as in any agreement or any contract, if it is the case that one side - in this case the EU - seeks to act in a way that is not in accordance with their commitments then we can go to court and we can win.

"We have also made a declaration as a nation that, should the EU behave in that way, that is exactly what we will do."

That declaration of intent has "political and legal standing", he added.

Rejecting the deal could result in Brexit being "delayed or diluted", he said in a message aimed at Tory Eurosceptics.

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