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Gove 'uncomfortable' about Irish border backstop but says May can win vote on Brexit withdrawal deal

 

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said the Government can win the crucial Commons vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal on December 11.

With dozens of Tory MPs saying they intend to vote against the Withdrawal Agreement, Mr Gove acknowledged that it would be "challenging". However, he told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show that the alternative was either "no deal or no Brexit".

"I believe that we can win the argument and win the vote. I know it is challenging," he said.

"I reflected long and hard about this deal but I concluded, like lots of people, that while it is imperfect it is the right thing to do.

"One of the things that I hope people will have the chance to do over the next nine days is to recognise that we should not make the perfect the enemy of the good.

"We have got to recognise that if we don't vote for this, the alternatives are no deal or no Brexit."

Mr Gove acknowledged he was uncomfortable about the Northern Ireland "backstop" but said that if it was activated it would be even more uncomfortable for the EU.

"The critical thing about the backstop is however uncomfortable it is for the UK, it is more uncomfortable for the European Union," he said.

"We will have tariff-free access to their markets without paying a penny. And, more than that, we will have control of our borders.

"While it does contain elements that for a Unionist or for a Brexiteer aren't perfect, it also contains elements that for any European politician would allow them to see Britain having a competitive advantage over their own country and their own economy.

"This fundamentally works against the interests of the single market and against the interests of European nations."

He dismissed a claim by French president Emmanuel Macron that the EU would be able to use the backstop to extract concessions from Britain over access to fisheries.

"He doesn't have us over a barrel. We have got him over a barrel of herring and a barrel of mackerel. He wants that access to our waters. We can sit in the backstop and say 'No, absolutely not'," he said.

Mrs May has been warned she is on course for a “historic constitutional row” unless the Government releases its full legal advice on the Brexit deal.

Labour said it is ready to combine with other opposition parties to start proceedings for contempt of Parliament unless the legal opinion of Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is published in full.

The DUP – which props up the Conservative government in the Commons – was said to be ready to sign a joint letter with other parties to Speaker John Bercow on Monday unless ministers back down.

It potentially represents another hurdle for Theresa May to overcome as she struggles to win backing for her deal in the crucial commons vote on December 11.

MPs across Parliament have angrily accused ministers of ignoring the will of the House after they said only that they would release a “full reasoned political statement” on the legal position.

It follows a binding Commons vote last month requiring the Government to lay before Parliament “any legal advice in full” – including that given by the Attorney General – relating to the Withdrawal Agreement.

Ministers chose not to oppose the motion – tabled by Labour under an arcane procedure known as the humble address – as they feared a damaging Commons defeat.

The latest row erupted row erupted as it was reported Mr Cox – who is due to make a statement to the Commons on Monday – had warned the UK could be tied to the EU customs union “indefinitely” through the Northern Ireland “backstop”.

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Labour is demanding the Government release the full legal advice of Attorney General Geoffrey Cox (Jonathan Blake/PA)

The Sunday Times said in a letter sent last month to Cabinet ministers, he advised the only way out of the backstop – designed to prevent the return of a hard border with the Republic – once it was invoked was to sign a new trade deal, a process which could take years.

“The protocol would endure indefinitely,” he is reported to have written.

The letter was said to be so sensitive that ministers were given numbered copies to read which they were not allowed to take from the room afterwards.

Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab – who quit last month over the withdrawal agreement – said the legal position was clear.

“The backstop will last indefinitely until it is superseded by the treaty setting out our future relationship, unless the EU allows us to exit,” he told The Sunday Times.

“The EU has a clear veto, even if the future negotiations stretch on for many years, or even if they break down and there is no realistic likelihood of us reaching agreement.

“That’s my view as a former international lawyer, but it is consistent if not identical with all of the formal advice I received.”

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