Death knell for Theresa May's Brexit deal as DUP and hardline Tories reject backstop changes

Posted On: 
12th March 2019

Theresa May's Brexit plans have been dealt a fatal blow after the DUP and Tory eurosceptics rejected the changes she won from Brussels.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds and leader Arlene Foster
Credit: 
PA Images

A "star chamber" of members of the Brexit-backing European Research Group, which also included DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, said they could not support the deal when it is voted on by MPs on Tuesday night.

ERG chairman Bill Cash said: "In the light of our own legal analysis and others we do not recommend accepting the Government’s motion today."

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However, it is unclear whether they plan to vote against Mrs May's deal or abstain - a move which would reduce the scale of the Government's likely defeat.

The eurosceptics announced their decision after Attorney General Geoffrey Cox confirmed the new-look deal would not prevent the UK being kept in the Irish backstop arrangement indefinitely against its will.

The backstop would see the UK remain in a customs union with the EU to ensure no hard border in Ireland if talks between the Government and Brussels break down.

LEGAL ADVICE

Mrs May had insisted that the changes she secured meant "there would be nothing to prevent the UK instigating measures that would ultimately dis-apply the backstop" if talks with the EU break down.

In his legal advice published less than eight hours before MPs are due to vote on the deal, Mr Cox said the new deal would "reduce the risk the  United Kingdom could be indefinitely and involuntarily detained within the [backstop's] provisions".

But he made clear that the UK would be unable to quit the backstop without the approval of Brussels.

He said: "The legal risk remains unchanged that if through no such demonstrable failure of either party, but simply because of intractable differences, that situation does arise, the United Kingdom would have, at least while the fundamential circumstances remained the same, no internationally lawful means of exiting the Protocal's arrangements, save by agreement."

Setting out his decision in a statement to MPs, Mr Cox called on them to set his legal advice and focus on the political consequences of not backing the Brexit deal.

But ERG deputy chairman Steve Baker said: "Isn’t it the case that if we negotiate under this agreement, we will either find ourselves trapped indefinitely in the backstop or we’ll have to agree a customs union, contrary to our manifesto?”

In a statement, a spokesman for the DUP said: "The Prime Minister set out a clear objective for legally binding change which would command a majority in the House of Commons.

"We recognise that the Prime Minister has made limited progress in her discussions with the European Union.  However in our view sufficient progress has not been achieved at this time.

"Having carefully considered the published material as well as measuring what has been achieved against our own fundamental tests, namely the impact of the backstop on the constitutional and economic integrity of the Union of the United Kingdom, it is clear that the risks remain that the UK would be unable to lawfully exit the backstop were it to be activated."

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said the Government's Brexit plans were "in tatters".

"The Attorney General has confirmed that there have been no significant changes to the Withdrawal Agreement despite the legal documents that were agreed last night," he said.

“In the light of our own legal analysis and others we do not recommend accepting the Government’s motion today.”