Downing Street 'told pro-Brexit Cabinet ministers' crucial deal concession was meaningless
Downing Street told top Brexit supporters a key concession in the breakthrough deal struck between Theresa May and the EU this week was “meaningless,” it has been claimed.
Aides told Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove the promise of ‘full alignment’ on trade rules to protect the Irish border “doesn’t mean anything in EU law”, a senior eurosceptic told the Sunday Telegraph.
But a No 10 spokesman told the paper: “We do not recognise this account of conversations.”
The measure was included to square off concerns from Ireland that the 310-mile land border could be hardened and from the DUP that Northern Ireland could be cut adrift from the rest of the UK.
After all-night talks with Ireland, the EU and DUP boss Arlene Foster - whose 10 MPs prop up the Tory government - the clause allowed the Prime Minister to seal the exit deal with Brussels on Friday.
The breakthrough means the bloc recognises ‘sufficient progress’ has been made and talks can move onto the two-year transition period immediately after Brexit and the future trade relationship.
Government sources have already insisted 'full alignment' will not mean the UK staying in the single market and customs union in all but name - but behind the scenes they have reportedly gone further.
A source told the Sunday Telegraph: “The constant way the alignment phrase was described is that this doesn’t mean anything in EU law and therefore is not binding…
“That’s something they have been telling Cabinet ministers like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.”
Meanwhile Mr Johnson and Mr Gove are reportedly demanding Mrs May pushes for a hard Brexit on key issues in exchange for their support for the exit arrangements when she goes back to the negotiating table with Brussels.
The pair want the UK to leave the common fisheries policy and take back control of its waters during a “bespoke” two-year transition period, followed by a trade deal that allows Britain to write its own laws without EU approval, , according to the Sunday Times.
Crucially they have the support of new Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson - giving them a majority on the Brexit war Cabinet - the paper adds.
A friend of Mr Gove said: “Since Michael has been generous enough to swallow any doubts he might have had to support the agreement, he will use any goodwill that has been generated to fight for the fishing industry.”
The Cabinet will meet tomorrow to discuss the withdrawal agreement, while the streamlined sub-committee on Brexit will meet next week to discuss what it wants from the so-called 'end state’.
It comes after Mr Gove argued - in an article for the Daily Telegraph and sanctioned by Downing Street - that the British people could vote to change the final Brexit deal at the next general election.
Meanwhile, the Observer reports that global powers have appealed to the EU to prevent the UK getting a trade deal on better terms than they have themselves secured.