EXCL Number 10 chief begs Labour MPs to back 'tenacious' Theresa May's Brexit deal
5 min read
Theresa May's chief of staff has begged Labour MPs to back her Brexit deal in a desperate bid to avoid a humiliating Commons defeat.
In a move which will infuriate Brexiteer Tory MPs, Gavin Barwell urged her political opponents to recognise the Prime Minister's "tenacity" in managing to secure an agreement with the EU.
Conservative critics point out that Mr Barwell has previously insisted that getting the controversial deal through the Commons thanks to Labour votes would "split" their party.
The chief of staff gave a 28-minute presentation to Labour MPs in Committee Room 12 of Parliament, alongside de facto deputy Prime Minister David Lidington and top Cabinet Office official Jonathan Black.
The trio then faced another half-hour of questions from their audience, during which they were told that Mrs May could lose the crunch vote on 11 December by 150 votes.
PoliticsHome has been passed a recording of the session, during which Mr Barwell said the deal was the "best available" and insisted EU leaders will not change it if it is voted down.
A significant chunk of the presentation was aimed at calming fears about the deal's Northern Ireland backstop plan, which will kick in if no-longer term solution can be found to keep the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland free of customs checks.
Mr Barwell told Labour MPs that the backstop was "a temporary agreement" that would be "mutually uncomfortable" for the EU and the UK, as he reeled off concessions British negotiators had secured during the talks.
"You might think this is all a bluff and Parliament can vote it down and they'll change their minds," he said. "That's a judgement for you to make. But the Prime Minister believes this is the best deal that's available."
He added: "Even if you don't share her views about exactly what kind of relationship you want, which some of you don't, I don't think any reasonable person can say she's not, with some tenacity, stuck at this to try and get the best relationship that's available.
"The key thing I would say to you, because it's obviously one of the things that in the House gets the most attention, is a backstop is going to be required whatever future relationship you want to see. There's no way around that."
But the team faced a string of tough questions from Labour MPs, with several raising concerns about the wording of the political declaration which sets out aspirations for Britain's future ties with the bloc.
PoliticsHome understands that one MP accused ministers of getting "stiffed" by offering only a "wishlist" in the 26-page document, which accompanies the legally binding withdrawal agreement setting out divorce terms.
Another MP said Downing Street was asking Labour to support the "cook" of a future Brexit agreement "with no indication of what the recipe is going to be", while one said the political declaration was "full of aspirational words".
Mrs May faces an uphill struggle to get her deal through the Commons, with scores of her own Eurosceptic backbenchers lining up to denounce it and the DUP, who she relies on for her Parliamentary majority, vowing to vote against the agreement.
During Monday night's briefing one Labour MP openly predicted that the Prime Minister would lose the Commons showdown by as many as 150 votes.
Others meanwhile demanded to know whether Number 10 had a back-up plan for the deal falling in Parliament.
But Mr Barwell told the assembled Labour MPs that Mrs May's deal would fulfil a string of promises made to the British people in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
"On the good side, it will maintain a free trade area - on services, better than any other third country has with the EU, but with more regulatory flexibility than an EU member," he said.
"On borders, [there will be] no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, no internal borders within the UK. We will be outside of the Common Agricultural and the Common Fisheries Policy and end the jurisdiction of the ECJ [European Court of Justice] in the UK."
The Number 10 chief meanwhile said Mrs May's agreement would leave the UK "free to sign trade deals with others", while curbing immigration by ending the free movement of people and "continuing very close cooperation on security".
But he would not be drawn on warnings from US President Donald Trump that the Brexit deal could mean the UK "may not be able to trade with us", saying only that the reaction of other non-EU member states to the plan had been "broadly positive".
The briefing has already triggered a furious backlash from Conservative Brexiteers - who warned Downing Street against using Labour support to achieve a 'Brexit In Name Only' (BRINO).
Maria Caulfield, a member of the European Research Group of eurosceptic backbenchers, said: "It is so disappointing that after Gavin Barwell faithfully promised me and many other colleagues that Number 10 would never try to gain Labour MPs support against us as a party, it seems they have gone back on their pledge. Not least because doing so would destroy the government.
"Yet now Number 10 is trying to do what it swore it never would.
"No 10’s policy of trying to get BRINO on Labour votes will destroy this government and let Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street."
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