Belfast Telegraph

May to say her plan is ‘right Brexit’ for Britain as she faces Tory backlash

Theresa May will update MPs on the deal thrashed out by her Cabinet as Tory Brexiteers mobilise against her.

Theresa May will attempt to bridge bitter Tory divides over Brexit by insisting her plan is the best approach for the UK.

The Prime Minister secured Cabinet backing for the strategy in a marathon meeting at Chequers last week, but has since faced a backlash from hardline Brexiteers – with some questioning her leadership.

A concerted effort to win over would-be rebels has been mounted by Downing Street, but Mrs May faces a potentially stormy private meeting with Tory MPs and peers in Parliament on Monday night.

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Theresa May managed to secure Cabinet agreement on the Brexit plan during an away day at Chequers (Joel Rouse/Crown Copyright/PA)

Before that meeting, she will use a Commons statement to set out details of the plan, which keeps the UK tied to EU rules on goods.

Brexiteer Cabinet minister Michael Gove admitted the plan was not everything he had hoped for, but he was a “realist” and the Prime Minister’s lack of a Commons majority meant the “parliamentary arithmetic” was a factor in deciding what could be adopted.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson backed the proposals at Chequers despite claiming that defending the plans was like “polishing a turd” during the meeting.

Arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg hit out at the “defeatism” in the Government’s plans, warning that he would vote against them – and suggested other Eurosceptics may do the same.

In the Commons, Mrs May will acknowledge that there have been “robust views” around the Cabinet table and a “spirited national debate” since the 2016 referendum  decision to leave the EU.

She will say: “Over that time, I have listened to every possible idea and every possible version of Brexit. This is the right Brexit.”

She will tell MPs it was “the Brexit that is in our national interest” and “will deliver on the democratic decision of the British people”.

The Prime Minister will insist the plan, which would see the UK share a “common rulebook” for goods as part of a proposal to create a UK-EU free trade area, still meets her Brexit red lines.

There would be “a complete end to freedom of movement”, the “supremacy of British courts” would be restored, no more “vast sums of money” would be sent to Brussels.

The plan would ensure “no hard border” between Northern Ireland and Ireland and would create a UK “parliamentary lock” on new rules.

The UK would have “the freedom to strike new trade deals around the world” – something Mrs May will stress in the face of claims by critics that the plan for alignment with Brussels on goods will curtail the ability to reach agreement with countries such as the US.

“Some have suggested that under this arrangement the UK would not be able to do trade deals. They are wrong,” she will say.

But Brexiteer critics of the plan, which will be set out in full in a white paper on Thursday, could be prepared to move against the Prime Minister after becoming frustrated with the lack of resistance from Eurosceptics in the Cabinet.

Letters calling for a leadership contest have reportedly been submitted to the backbench 1922 Committee.

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen told the Press Association: “I can’t support the offer which emerged at Chequers – I think it’s a breach of the red lines, in fact the offer is so poor that I couldn’t support it even if the EU were paying us for it.

“Obviously if the Government and the Prime Minister continue to support that very poor offer then I won’t have any confidence in the Government or the Prime Minister.”

Veteran Tory Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash told Sky News “there is a lot of unhappiness” with MPs asking: “Is this going to be a proper Brexit?”

He said he had not written a letter calling for a leadership contest, but pointed out “if people were to decide to put in those letters you only need 48”.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “If the proposals are as they currently appear, I will vote against them and others may well do the same.”

The plan was “the ultimate statement of managing decline” and “focuses on avoiding risk, not on the world of opportunity outside the EU”.

“Pragmatism has come to mean defeatism,” he said.

Mr Gove said the compromise plan was a “perfect balance” between the need for close access to Europe and the ability for the services industry to diverge.

Asked if it was everything he hoped for, Mr Gove told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “No, but then I’m a realist and one of the things about politics is you mustn’t, you shouldn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. One of the things about this compromise is that it unites the Cabinet.”

It was now up to the European Union to show flexibility in the negotiations – with the UK Government stepping up preparations to show that it can walk away from talks without a deal if necessary, he said.

“We will be in a position in March 2019, if we don’t get the deal we want, to be able to walk away,” he said.

An analysis of the Chequers statement circulating within Mr Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group of Tories was damning about the plans.

The Chequers proposals “lead directly to a worst-of-all-worlds ‘black hole’ Brexit where the UK is stuck permanently as a vassal state in the EU’s legal and regulatory tarpit”, the briefing by Martin Howe QC concluded.

The document has not been endorsed by the ERG but was “devastating”, a Brexiteer source said.

But pro-EU Tories also expressed reservations, with Phillip Lee – who quit as a minister over Brexit – saying: “This government by cowardice isn’t taking us in a good direction. We are currently pursuing a fragile ‘least worst’ option. This isn’t in the best interests of our people or our country.”

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