Prime Minister plans high-stakes gamble to win concessions from the EU and unite the Tory party by backing ‘pragmatic’ proposal to scrap the controversial Northern Ireland backstop
- PM could back amendment calling for Northern Irish backstop to be ditched
- The plan would instead call for ‘alternative arrangements’ to be put in place
- Idea was put forward by influential Conservative grandee Sir Graham Brady
- Sir Brady said vote is chance to ‘pull together and unite in the national interest’
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.
In a signal that Downing Street is preparing to back the plan – or something similar – one Cabinet minister gave it a cautious welcome, calling it a ‘pragmatic solution’.
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
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told ITV News: ‘The impulse behind those who’ve supported the Brady amendment I entirely understand and we need to look for a pragmatic solution. 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.
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Writing in today’s Mail, 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’.
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
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. 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.’
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
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.
A 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.’ Last night, Boris Johnson claimed Mrs May was planning to fight for a ‘freedom clause’ that would win the ‘full-throated’ support of the entire nation.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, the former foreign secretary said he had heard from ‘very senior sources’ that the PM was planning to go to Brussels to renegotiate the backstop. Mr Johnson said: ‘And 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.’
The Commons 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.
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
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.
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