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Michael Gove and Boris Johnson go to war over Brexit as Theresa May braced for defeat

4 min read

Michael Gove and Boris Johnson have clashed over Theresa May's Brexit deal as the Prime Minister faces another humiliating Commons defeat.

The Environment Secretary urged Conservative MPs to ditch their objections to Mrs May's "compromise" Brexit deal - or risk losing control of the entire process.

Mr Gove warned hardline Tory eurosceptics that leaving the EU without a deal "wasn’t the message of the campaign I helped lead".

But his plea came as his fellow Vote Leave chief Boris Johnson called on MPs to again reject the Prime Minister's deal and accused Brussels of showing "chronic disdain" for Britain.

Mrs May has been pressing the European Union for a string of changes to the Northern Ireland backstop element of her deal since MPs handed her an historic Commons defeat in January.

Tuesday's second meaningful vote takes place amid warnings from Tory Eurosceptics that the Prime Minister again faces the prospect of a three-figure defeat after talks with Brussels ran aground.

Mr Gove acknowledged that he was "uncomfortable" about aspects of the Irish backstop, which would keep the UK tied to EU customs rules if no alternative plan can be found to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

But, writing in the Daily Mail, he said: "Any objective assessment on this deal shows it delivers on the key Brexit demands and gives us the freedom to go further in the future.

"I fear, if MPs don’t support the PM’s deal this week, then the chance to come together as a country may be taken from us."

In a direct rebuke to Tory MPs pressing for Britain to walk away from the EU without a deal, Mr Gove said: "Some may say that ditching this deal will allow us to leave without any compromises. But we didn’t vote to leave without a deal. That wasn’t the message of the campaign I helped lead."

And he warned: "If the deal is voted down, then the Government is no longer determining events.

"Parliament will then vote on whether we leave without a deal on March 29. A majority are likely to say they don’t want to take that risk, and Parliament is likely to ask for an extension of EU membership.

"Whatever the merits of that course, it’s undoubtedly the case that it creates another risk - of the Commons diluting Brexit or the EU offering us a poorer deal."


The last-minute intervention from the leading Cabinet Brexiteer came as Boris Johnson - Mr Gove's former ally in the 2016 Vote Leave campaign -  urged fellow Conservative eurosceptics to reject the agreement again.

Writing in The Telegraph, the  former Foreign Secretary accused the EU of treating the UK with "condescension that borders on contempt".

And he warned: "Unless there is an imminent change of heart in Brussels, it looks as though Parliament will be asked to approve a treaty that is essentially unchanged from the one it threw out in January with a record 230-vote majority."

If MPs reject Mrs May's deal on Tuesday, they will on Wednesday be asked to vote on whether or not to leave without an agreement - and Mr Johnson called for the Prime Minister to whip Tory MPs in favour of a no-deal to try and force last-minute concessions from the EU.

"It would be preposterous to take the option of no-deal off the table," he said.

"If indeed that option is put to Parliament this week, the Government must obviously whip against it, and the same goes for the absurd idea of extending Article 50."

But Mr Johnson's demand that the Prime Minister order Conservative MPs to back a no-deal Brexit on Wednesday came as one minister vowed to quit if that happened.

Public health minister Steve Brine told the BBC's Westminster Hour he would find it "very difficult" to stay in government if MPs were not allowed a free vote in order to reject leaving without a deal.

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