Theresa May is poised to throw her weight behind a Tory ‘unity’ proposal designed to secure concessions from Brussels, it emerged last night.
In a high-stakes gamble, she could back an amendment calling for the controversial Northern Irish backstop to be ditched in tomorrow’s crunch Brexit vote.
The plan, which was put forward by influential Conservative grandee Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee, would instead call for ‘alternative arrangements’ to be put in place to avoid a hard border.
Last night Boris Johnson claimed Downing Street will fight for a ‘freedom clause’ that would win the ‘full-throated’ support of the entire nation.
Supporters believe the plan could help salvage Mrs May’s, pictured in Maidenhead on Sunday, deal by winning back the support of her Democratic Unionist Party allies
The former foreign secretary, who plans to back the Brady amendment tomorrow, said he had heard from ‘very senior sources’ that the PM was planning to go to Brussels to renegotiate the backstop.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, he said: ‘Now is the time to stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood … if the PM secures that change – a proper UK-sized perforation in the fabric of the backstop itself – I have no doubt that she will have the whole country full-throatedly behind her.’
Earlier Health Secretary Matt Hancock told ITV: ‘The impulse behind those who’ve supported the Brady amendment I entirely understand and we need to look for a pragmatic solution.
Boris Johnson, pictured on Wednesday, has claimed Mrs May was planning to fight for a ‘freedom clause’ that would win the ‘full-throated’ support of the entire nation
‘I think the efforts that those who are backing that amendment have gone to to bring people together have been extremely valuable.’
Supporters believe the plan could help salvage Mrs May’s deal by orchestrating a show of strength in the Commons and, crucially, win back the support of her Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) allies.
With the Conservatives unified, Mrs May could in theory go to Brussels as early as this week and demand concessions to get a deal through.
Writing in today’s Mail (see right), Sir Graham says tomorrow’s Commons vote is an opportunity to ‘pull together and unite in the national interest, to resolve the impasse over Brexit’. He argues that the crushing defeat of Mrs May’s deal earlier this month was ‘deceptive’ in scale, but with the right concessions an agreement is ‘winnable’.
Critically, he says the EU are ‘ready to make concessions’ and MPs must be prepared to compromise to get the deal ‘over the line’.
In an appeal to MPs on both sides of the Brexit divide, he writes: ‘If MPs from right across the Tory party put aside their differences, in the national interest, we can get the plan over the line.’
‘What MPs must show now is that we have the will to compromise. The British public is crying tears of frustration at Parliament’s inability to move forward.
A plan, which was put forward by influential Conservative grandee Sir Graham Brady, pictured, would instead call for ‘alternative arrangements’ to be put in place to avoid a hard border
‘The sense of national relief, when we agree terms to leave the EU, will be immense. Tomorrow, Parliament and the Conservative Party have the opportunity to pull together and unite in the national interest, to resolve the impasse over Brexit.
‘If we do that, we can start negotiating for the future, with a full and wide-ranging free trade agreement with Europe. Our country demands we must not waste this chance.’
The amendment does not spell out precisely what should replace the backstop, but the language of ‘alternative arrangements’ echoes that used by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier when asked last week about what happens if there is a No Deal Brexit.
Cabinet ministers have lobbied Mrs May to get behind the Brady amendment, which is also backed by Andrew Murrison, the chairman of the Northern Ireland select committee in the Commons.
Theresa May, pictured with husband Philip on Sunday, could back an amendment calling for the controversial Northern Irish backstop to be ditched in tomorrow’s Brexit vote
One Cabinet source told the Mail: ‘If you put the Parliamentary party back together you have half a chance of being able to negotiate something, because you can show you can deliver the House of Commons.’
The plan is not without serious risks, however.
In the first instance, Speaker John Bercow chooses which amendments will be voted on, and he could refuse to select Sir Graham’s to frustrate the Government’s plans.
Ministers complain that he has a record of being actively unhelpful to the Government in selecting which amendments are voted on.
If he refused to allow a vote, the Speaker would provoke uproar on the Tory benches – but there is little ministers can do to stop him.
Another serious risk is if the amendment is selected but fails to win support from a majority of MPs.
Some hardline Eurosceptics oppose elements of the deal other than the backstop and want a No Deal departure. That would leave Mrs May with nothing to take back to Brussels, where Eurocrats would argue she has no prospect of getting the deal through, even if it is changed.
Nor is it clear – yet – that the EU is prepared to offer sufficient concessions to help Mrs May, even though fear of No Deal is growing.
Yesterday Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney insisted the backstop ‘isn’t going to change’. But ministers say Dublin is panicking over the prospect of No Deal, and the EU are starting to feel pressure to compromise.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar last week said No Deal could mean soldiers at the border with Northern Ireland.
What is Tuesday’s Plan B vote and what will it mean?
What is happening?
Because Theresa May’s Brexit deal was defeated, the law says she must tell Parliament what her Plan B is.
This has to be done in a motion to the Commons, which will be voted on by MPs on Tuesday night.
That motion can be re-written by MPs if they table amendments and win a vote in favour of them.
Some amendments have already been tabled and MPs can keep producing them until Monday night.
What does May’s plan say?
It promises more cross-party working, renews commitments to protecting workers’ rights after Brexit and says the PM will ask Brussels for more concessions on the backstop.
It it based on the current deal that was crushed by 230 votes last week.
What do the main amendments say?
Jeremy Corbyn’s amendment says Parliament should vote on ‘options’ including a renegotiation of the deal to get a permanent customs union and for a second referendum.
A cross party amendment from Yvette Cooper and Nicky Morgan seeks to block no deal by giving time to a draft law that would require the Government to delay Brexit if a deal has not been agreed by February 26. It upturns normal convention by putting a backbench MP’s Bill ahead of Government plans.
An amendment from Tory rebel Dominic Grieve seeks to set up weekly debates that would mean regular votes on what to do in the absence a deal. His amendments sets aside six named days for the debates – including as late as March 26.
The Government also appears to be encouraging MPs to back amendment from two senior Tory MPs.
One from Andrew Murrison would effectively set a time limit on the backstop of December 31, 2021.
Another amendments tabled by Sir Graham Brady, chair of the powerful 1922 committee, would effectively eradicate the backstop and demand the EU and UK find other solutions.
Some ministers hope that if these amendment receive strong support it will pile pressure on the EU to make concessions on the backstop – which Brexiteers fear the UK will be stuck in forever, and the DUP believes risks splitting the union.
What would the vote do?
Legally nothing – but if the Commons votes in favour of a clear way forward by a majority it will be a major political signal of what might happen.
Is it a new ‘meaningful vote’ that can approve May’s deal?
No. At some point, the PM will have to stage a repeat of last week’s vote to get explicit approval from MPs to go ahead with her deal if she wants it to survive.