Up to 35 Labour MPs could defy Jeremy Corbyn and back Theresa May’s Brexit deal as the Prime Minister was today accused of trying to bribe them with a £1billion fund to regenerate towns in Leave areas.
A growing number of rebels are said to be queasy about the possibility of a second EU referendum as Mrs May tries to woo them ahead of next week’s make-or-break vote.
Labour Brexit-supporter John Mann says that the group willing to vote with the PM in the Commons has increased from a handful of MPs to approaching 35.
Mr Mann, who represents Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire, believes that 70 of his colleagues are opposed to holding another referendum – and ‘possibly half as many’ may back the Tory deal with Brussels.
He told The Sun: ‘The choice facing us all is either to deliver Brexit as we promised or to vote for a second referendum. When the deal comes before Parliament again, the clear choice will be the deal or a second referendum’.
Theresa May, pictured speaking to two-year-old Scarlett Ward in Salisbury today, is fighting for votes to get her deal through and could get the backing of up to 35 Labour MPs keen to avoid a second referendum
Mrs May, pictured with local MP John Glen today, is offering a new £1bn fund to rejuvenate towns –
Mrs May was accused of ‘bribery’ today after setting out plans to funnel nearly £1billion to ‘left-behind’ towns in the North and Midlands as part of a package of ‘bribes’ designed to persuade Labour MPs to back her Brexit deal.
Labour MP John Mann claims there are 70 colleagues who are opposed to a second referendum so may cross the floor
Wigan’s Labour MP Lisa Nandy, who has said her vote is ‘not for sale’, tweeted today: ‘This Stronger Towns announcement just keeps getting worse.
‘Government now seems to be saying it’s spread over 7 years amounting to just £40m a year for ALL the North West’s towns.
‘To put it in context in Wigan alone we’ve had cuts of £134m since 2010 with more in the pipeline’.
But Don Valley MP and former Labour minister Caroline Flint, who has urged Jeremy Corbyn to allow Labour MPs to have a free vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, was more receptive.
‘I have long argued that the voices and concerns of our smaller towns need to be heard’, she said.
‘Too many funding pots are hoovered up by cities or massive infrastructure projects.
‘The Stronger Towns Fund isn’t enough but it is a step forward.’
The Prime Minister will unveil details of the new £1billion Stronger Towns Fund as she launches intensive efforts to woo Labour MPs in pro-Brexit seats.
The proposals will see £1billion allocated directly to towns in England. Details of the towns involved were not available last night, but 90 per cent of the cash is being allocated to areas in the North and Midlands.
A further £600million will be made available for towns across the country to bid for. The decision over the £1.6billion fund follows weeks of talks between ministers and backbench Labour MPs unhappy at their party’s attempts to frustrate Brexit.
She will also use a speech on Wednesday to set out plans to improve workers’ rights in what is already being seen as another pitch to rebels.
Today the Attorney General has admitted defeat in his attempts to secure a guaranteed exit from the Irish backstop, it has been claimed.
Geoffrey Cox is said to have abandoned plans to agree a firm end date or provide for a unilateral British withdrawal from the emergency arrangements.
With the EU refusing to back down, Mr. Cox was now seeking an enhanced ‘arbitration mechanism’ instead, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The plan would create an ‘independent’ arbitration panel outside the EU’s institutions but Brussels has so far rejected the plans, it is claimed.
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is said to have admitted defeat on getting the EU to agree a firm end date to the Irish backstop
A Number 10 spokesman said: ‘The Attorney General continues to pursue legally binding changes to the backstop that are necessary to ensure it cannot be indefinite.
‘We will not however comment on the specifics of the negotiations at this critical stage.’
Meanwhile Justice Minister Rory Stewart said hardline Eurosceptics are becoming ‘more pragmatic’ about Theresa May’s deal.
The threat that Brexit could be delayed, softened or even halted was focusing minds among Eurosceptic MPs, he said.
‘I think there’s been a huge amount of movement,’ he told Sky News.
Justice minister Rory Stewart said the threat that Brexit could be delayed, softened or even halted was focusing minds among Eurosceptic MPs
‘I think people are becoming more pragmatic, they are recognising much more than they did in the past that there are a limited number of alternatives to this and that the alternatives are worse.’
A number of senior Eurosceptics have indicated they could back Mrs May’s deal, provided she is able to secure concessions on the controversial Irish backstop.
So what are their new red lines?
- Any concession on the Irish backstop must include a ‘clearly-worded, legally-binding’ clause which ‘unambiguously overrides’ the Withdrawal Agreement.
- The new tests demand the language in any concession ‘must go beyond simply re-emphasising/ re-interpreting the temporary nature of the backstop’ and lead to a change in Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s advice that it could ‘endure indefinitely’.
- Brexiteers also insist that the changes must demonstrate ‘a clear and unambiguous route out of the backstop if trade talks fail’.
Nigel Evans, secretary of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, said Eurosceptics and the DUP would not accept ‘some wishy washy sticking plaster’.
But, writing in the Daily Mail, he said: ‘I will be looking very carefully at what (Attorney General) Geoffrey Cox brings back.
‘On my interpretation that it delivers what Theresa May said she was going to deliver, and on it having the backing of the DUP, I can see me edging towards pushing this deal over the line.’
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, warned that Remainer attempts to remove the possibility of No Deal had undermined Mrs May, but said Eurosceptic MPs could yet help reverse the defeat inflicted on her deal when it returns to the Commons.
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 EU on March 29.’
Government sources are hoping that Mr Cox will achieve a breakthrough in Brussels by the end of this week that will allow him to change his legal advice that the backstop could ‘endure indefinitely’ ahead of an expected vote on March 12.
A source at the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs warned ministers not to try to ‘bounce’ them into backing any revised deal at the last minute, saying: ‘We want at least 48 hours’ notice. That is not an unreasonable amount of time and anything less would be treating Parliament with contempt.’
The ERG has set up a panel of Eurosceptic lawyers, led by Sir Bill Cash, to pass judgment on any concessions secured by Mr Cox.
Yesterday, the group set out three tests the changes must pass. These include a ‘clearly worded, legally-binding treaty-level clause which unambiguously overrides’ the text of the Withdrawal Agreement.
The language ‘must go beyond simply re-emphasising/re-interpreting the temporary nature of the backstop’.
And the changes must demonstrate ‘a clear and unambiguous route out of the backstop if trade talks fail’.
Sabine Weyand, deputy to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, yesterday suggested the demands are ‘way beyond’ what is on offer.
But Tory MP Michael Tomlinson, who will sit on the new committee, said Eurosceptics had already compromised by accepting that the change did not necessarily have to be written into the text of the Withdrawal Agreement.