Theresa May ready to reopen EU negotiations in bid to win MPs’ support for new deal

Theresa May ready to reopen EU negotiations in bid to win MPs’ support for new deal
Pro EU campaigners outside parliament in London, Britain, 29 January 2019. The House of Commons is set to vote on amendments to British Prime Minister May's Brexit plan in parliament on 29 January. EPA/WILL OLIVER

Theresa May has told Cabinet she is ready to reopen negotiations with the EU on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to secure changes to the controversial backstop plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

The British Prime Minister said that, following this month’s crushing 230-vote defeat in the Commons, it was clear that only reopening the agreement and changing the backstop will win MPs’ support for her EU withdrawal deal.

In a change to previously announced plans, she will address MPs at the start of debate on a series of proposed amendments to the deal, urging them to back proposals from Tory grandee Graham Brady to replace the backstop with “alternative arrangements”.

In an apparent attempt to fend off possible defeat on other amendments which could delay Brexit or rule out a no-deal departure, Mrs May promised that Tuesday’s votes would not be MPs’ final chance to pass judgment on EU withdrawal.

Her hopes of victory for the Brady amendment were boosted when former foreign secretary and Brexit figurehead Boris Johnson said he would “gladly” vote for it – if it meant the Withdrawal Agreement being reopened and legally binding changes being made to the backstop.

But the chances of the Commons derailing her plans were also heightened when Labour confirmed it will back a cross-party amendment to push Brexit day back from March 29 to the end of this year and put Parliament in the driving seat on the way forward.

This proposal, tabled by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tory Nick Boles, is one of the strongest-backed of a bevy of rival amendments tabled for debate. Only those selected by Speaker John Bercow will go forward to a vote.

Mrs May is expected to have phone discussions with key EU leaders over the course of the day, with votes taking place in the early evening.

Speaking to Cabinet, she said she aims to return to the Commons “as soon as possible” with a revised deal, which will be subject to a “meaningful vote” of MPs. If it is defeated, she will table another amendable motion for debate the following day.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

If no new deal is reached by February 13, the PM will make a statement to Parliament that day and table an amendable motion for debate the following day.

Her announcement brought the prospect of the cancellation of Parliament’s half-term recess a step closer, as the Commons is currently due to rise for its 10-day break on February 14.- Press Association

Tory Leave and Remain camps agree deal to replace Northern Ireland backstop

A new Brexit plan which is reported to be backed by members of both the Remain and Leave camps of the Conservative party has been put forward.

The plan - called the The Malthouse Compromise after Kit Malthouse who brought the parties together - would lead to Britain leaving the EU "on time and with a functioning government", former Brexit minster Steve Baker said.

The plan "provides for exit from the EU on time with a new backstop, which would be acceptable indefinitely, but which incentivises us all to reach a new future relationship".

It would extend the transition period - the period where the UK would continue to follow EU rules and pay into its budget - from the end of 2020 and into December 2021 which would "allow both parties to prepare properly for WTO terms, but also provide a period in which the parties could obviate this outcome by negotiating a mutually beneficial future relationship".

Theresa May ready to reopen EU negotiations in bid to win MPs’ support for new deal

Former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan has confirmed talks have been taking place for "some days" between MPs from the Remain and Leave wings of the Tory Party, co-ordinated by MP Kit Malthouse, to find a compromise way forward.

The discussions involved herself, Health Minister Stephen Hammond, and Solicitor General Robert Buckland from one wing of the party, and Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker from the Brexiteer side.

She said their plan involved a "recasting" of the Northern Ireland backstop as "free trade agreement-lite" with a commitment on all sides there should be no hard border on the island of Ireland and an extended transition period to December 2021.

"The Prime Minister has been aware of the discussions. At some point there has to be compromise on all sides in order to get a deal over the line. That is what most of us want to see - a negotiated settlement with the EU," Ms Morgan told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"People like me want to avoid a no-deal outcome, a crashing out on March 29. We have to look for ways to do that. We are all prepared to compromise on that."

DUP leader Arlene Foster has backed calls for alternative arrangements to the Irish border backstop.

It could unify the views of Remain and Leave supporters at Westminster, the head of Northern Ireland’s largest party said.

Her 10 MPs endorsed the plan before a series of Commons votes on Tuesday which could help shape the next phase of talks with the EU and includes an amendment on the backstop.

There is no better time to advance this alternative, given the confusion and disarray which is now manifesting itself in Brussels

Mrs Foster said: “It also gives a feasible alternative to the backstop proposed by the European Union which would split the United Kingdom or keep the entire United Kingdom in the customs union and single market.

“Importantly, this proposal would also offer a route towards negotiating a future trade relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.”

If Prime Minister Theresa May seeks a united front between elements in her own party and the DUP in EU negotiations she should not snub the proposition contained in Sir Graham Brady’s amendment, the DUP leader said.

Mrs Foster added: “There is no better time to advance this alternative, given the confusion and disarray which is now manifesting itself in Brussels.

“This has been displayed both by the contradictory EU statements and the panic-stricken behaviour of the Irish government.”

The DUP adamantly opposes the Irish border backstop, an insurance policy to prevent a hard border if no better deal is found in future trade talks with the EU.

The unionist party fears it could mark regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, effectively creating a border down the Irish Sea.

Brexit figurehead Boris Johnson has said he is ready to back a compromise plan to salvage Mrs May’s EU withdrawal deal.

But the former foreign secretary said his support was dependent on the the UK Prime Minister making clear she will demand legally-binding commitments on the controversial Irish “backstop” in the text of her Withdrawal Agreement.

Brussels has been adamant that it will not reopen the Agreement, struck by Mrs May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and signed off by leaders of the remaining 27 EU states last November.

As MPs prepared for a crucial series of Commons votes which could shape the next phase of talks with the EU, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox indicated Mrs May was ready to reopen the Agreement in order to secure a legally-binding text.

He urged Tory MPs to give her a “strong mandate” by backing an amendment tabled by 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady which would replace the backstop with “alternative arrangements” to keep the Irish border open after Brexit.

Conservative MPs were informed on Monday evening that they would be whipped to vote for the amendment – assuming it is selected by Commons Speaker John Bercow.

Dr Fox gave a cool reception to a compromise deal put forward by housing minister Kit Malthouse which has won the support of the Democratic Unionist Party.

But asked about the Malthouse plan, Dr Fox said only: “There are all sorts of ideas being put out, but Parliament cannot take a decision unless it is on the order paper and it is not on the order paper.”

Theresa May is urging MPs to back changes to the Irish backstop (House of Commons/PA)
Theresa May is urging MPs to back changes to the Irish backstop (House of Commons/PA)

Mrs May’s hopes of gaining a Commons majority for the Brady amendment received an initial setback after Jacob-Rees-Mogg, the leader of the European Research Group (ERG), said its eurosceptic members were not prepared to support it.

But he later suggested that he could be prepared to support it if the amendment had official Government backing.

“If the Brady amendment is a Government amendment, effectively, that means the Withdrawal Agreement will be reopened,” Mr Rees-Mogg told the BBC. “That’s very different from a worthy backbench motion that doesn’t do anything.”

And Mr Johnson raised hopes of the amendment winning a majority in Tuesday evening’s votes by tweeting: “If the Prime Minister indicates in the debate that she will be pressing Brussels to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement to make changes to the backstop, I will gladly support the Brady amendment.”

But he insisted: “What we need is to achieve something legally binding – and that means part of the Withdrawal Agreement. We can’t have some codicil or letter or joint declaration.”

I think we should send the Prime Minister back to Brussels with a strong mandate

Both the EU and the Irish government have been adamant that there can be no question of reopening the Withdrawal Agreement.

Irish European Affairs Minister, Helen McEntee, said: “There can be no change to the backstop. It was negotiated over 18 months with the UK and by the UK. A bit of realism is needed at this stage.”

Former party leader Iain Duncan Smith, from the Brexiteer side, said the plan represented the “best hope” for the Conservatives.

“I really urge the Government to embrace this because what this will tell the European Union is that now, I believe, a majority of Parliament, particularly in the governing party, have agreed there are compromises to be made,” he said.- Press Association

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