Hardline Tory eurosceptics lay out ‘three legal tests’ to support Theresa May’s Brexit deal

Posted On: 
3rd March 2019

Conservative eurosceptics have promised to give the green light to the Brexit deal Theresa May clinched with Brussels provided three changes are made.

Theresa May outside 10 Downing Street
Credit: 
PA Images

European Research Group MPs said they could get the Prime Minister’s deal over the line at the next Commons 'meaningful vote' if Brussels agrees to their demands.

The Sunday Times reports that a group of eight lawyers, chaired by Sir Bill Cash, have drawn up a document which they hope will boost Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s negotiating position with the European Union.

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It moves to address the sticking point of the Northern Ireland backstop – the mechanism which would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU after the post-Brexit transition period if no alternative to maintaining an open Irish border had been found.

The plan has been drawn up with the DUP’s Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds, and could well give Mrs May a Commons majority when her withdrawal agreement is brought back before MPs on 12 March.

Among the proposals is a “clearly worded, legally binding, treaty-level clause which unambiguously overrides” the text of the withdrawal agreement.

The language of the bill, they say, “must go beyond simply re-emphasising/re-interpreting the temporary nature of the backstop” and result in a change to Mr Cox’s legal advice that it would “endure indefinitely”.

And there must be a “clear and unconditional route out of the backstop if trade talks fail,” which could mean “a time limit or a unilateral exit mechanism,” the group added.

In a boost for the PM, Tory MP Michael Tomlinson, suggested there was room for manoeuvre within the proposals, telling the paper: “There is a spectrum and a range of options that the attorney-general has.

“I’m not going to say protocol good, codicil bad, letter very bad, because that would be prejudging it.”

The backbencher added that the agreement would be likely to win over the two leaders of the ERG, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker, if the group's panel of eight legal experts accepted suitable changes had been made.

The European Union has so far refused to alter the wording of the backstop part of the withdrawal agreement, insisting that it cannot be temporary if no alternative arrangement is in place.

GRAHAM BRADY

The proposals comes as Sir Graham Brady, the leader of the Conservative 1922 Committee of backbenchers, signalled he would support Mrs May’s plan at the next vote, despite having opposed it in January.

The Altricham and Sale West MP, who last month tabled a successful amendment calling for "alternative arrangements" to the Irish backstop to be found, said he was optimistic after discussions with European politicians that a breakthrough is near.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he said: "In the month since my amendment was passed, there has been constant shuttle diplomacy - the Prime Minister, Brexit Secretary and Attorney General have been locked in daily discussions to find the binding guarantee that is needed.

"Increasingly, the leaders of other EU countries have urged that a pragmatic solution should be found."

"My conversations with senior diplomats and politicians from across Europe have given me cause for optimism that a breakthrough is near."

He added that “the whole country is tired of vacillation and delay".

And he said: "When the right compromise is offered, we should pull together behind the Prime Minister and help her to deliver our exit from the European Union on 29 March."