Former chief whip becomes latest Tory loyalist to reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal
Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper has declared that he will vote against Theresa May’s Brexit deal in next week’s meaningful vote.
Writing in the Telegraph, he warned that the agreement “compromises the integrity of our country” and breaks Conservative manifesto promises.
His comments are a further blow to the Prime Minister who is braced for a second day of Brexit debate in the Commons after losing three crucial votes last night.
In one of her worst days since entering Number 10, Mrs May saw her government found in contempt of Parliament for failing to publish its full Brexit legal advice, then saw MPs effectively seize control of the Brexit process if her deal is voted down by the Commons next week.
Mr Harper, who served as chief whip under David Cameron, wrote: “The Cabinet’s proposals are not acceptable because they threaten the integrity of our country, keep us trapped indefinitely in a customs union and leave us in a weak negotiating position for our future relationship.”
He criticised the Northern Irish backstop arrangement, saying “the EU’s proposal would undermine the UK common market and threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea, and no UK Prime Minister could ever agree to it”.
The Forest of Dean MP added: “I’m just very disappointed that as a loyal MP I’ve found myself in this situation that in order to keep to the promises we made just last year in the general election I’ve been forced to vote against the cabinet’s proposals.
“Keeping promises in politics is important and I think many colleagues also feel they have been misled.”
BACK TO BRUSSELS?
This comes as Cabinet Brexiteers are reportedly preparing to force Mrs May back into negotiations with Brussels after a backlash from Tory MPs over her deal.
According to the Times, some figures in the Prime Minister’s top team – including Transport Secretary Chris Grayling – have been suggesting she should reopen talks with EU officials.
The group is said to favour a unilateral mechanism for the UK to pull out of the controversial customs plan – although the EU has previously rejected that request during talks.
The newspaper also reports that some government sources now believe a second EU referendum is the only way Mrs May can break the Brexit deadlock.
Although another source remarked: “She can’t call a second referendum — it would split the party.”
Meanwhile, the Commons Brexit debate enters its second day with MPs set to focus on security matters.
Yesterday, the government lost a number of crunch votes with previously loyal Tory MPs voting against the Prime Minister.
Mrs May was defeated by 321 to 229 on an amendment which will hand more power to parliament if next week’s Brexit vote is lost,
More than 20 Conservative MPs voted for the amendment, tabled by Dominic Grieve, including former Cabinet minister and trusted ally of the Prime Minister, Damian Green.
In the Commons last night, Mrs May insisted she was prepared to see the process through to the end, whatever the political cost.
She said: "I have spent nearly two years negotiating this deal. I have lost valued colleagues along the way, and faced fierce criticism from all sides.
"If I had banged the table, walked out of the room and at the end of the process delivered the very same deal that is before us today, some might say I had done a better job.
But I didn’t play to the gallery, I focused on getting a deal that honours the referendum and sets us on course for a bright future – and I did so through painstaking hard work.
"Because I have never thought that politics was simply about broadcasting your own opinions on the matter at hand – it is as much about listening to people from all sides of the debate and then doing what you believe is in our national interest.
"That is what I have done – and sticking to the task has delivered results for the British people."