Brexit deal gives UK control of borders, laws and money, May to tell MPs

No-deal Brexit would result in indefinite Border backstop, attorney general tells MPs

British environment minister Michael Gove says he believes the UK government can win a vote in parliament on its Brexit deal, again arguing that the alternatives to the agreement are much worse. Video: BBC/Reuters


Theresa May will on Tuesday appeal to MPs to back her Brexit deal at the start of five days of debate on the agreement, which is opposed by much of her own party as well as by the opposition. The prime minister will say that the deal respects the outcome of the 2016 referendum and will return to Britain control of its borders, laws and money.

“The British people want us to get on with a deal that honours the referendum and allows us to come together again as a country, whichever way we voted. This is the deal that delivers for the British people,” she is expected to say.

John Bercow, the Speaker, allowed Labour, the DUP and four other opposition parties to lay down a motion that will be voted on Tuesday, immediately before before the start of the five-day debate on the Brexit deal.

The motion, submitted late on Monday, calls on MPs to find “ministers in contempt for their failure to comply” and is signed by the shadow Brexitsecretary, Sir Keir Starmer; the DUP’s Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds; and the Scottish National party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green party.

Attorney general Geoffrey Cox told MPs on Monday that Britain would have to remain indefinitely in the Northern Ireland backstop if negotiations failed to produce a free-trade deal that kept the Border open. Mr Cox was speaking after the publication of an overview of his legal advice to the government on Brexit, which followed a demand by MPs that they should see his full advice to the cabinet.

“I make no bones about it, I would have preferred to have seen a unilateral right of termination of this backstop. I would have preferred to have seen a clause that allowed us to exit if negotiations have irretrievably broken down. But I am prepared to lend my support to this agreement because I do not believe that we are likely to be entrapped in it permanently,” Mr Cox said.

Competitive advantage

The attorney general said that the backstop would offer Northern Ireland’s traders a competitive advantage over traders from European Union member states, including Ireland, because they could trade freely in both the single market and the rest of the UK. He suggested that, if the backstop persisted beyond a short period, it would be subject to a legal challenge in the European Court of Justice on the grounds that article 50 of the EU treaty could not be the basis of a permanent arrangement with a non-EU state.

Dozens of Conservative MPs have said publicly that they would vote against the withdrawal agreement, along with the DUP and the opposition parties. But Mr Cox said that, when weighed against the alternatives to backing the prime minister’s deal, it was a risk worth taking.

“This represents a sensible compromise. It has unattractive elements, unsatisfactory elements for us. But the question for the House is to weigh it up against the other potential alternatives and to assess whether it amounts to a calculated risk that this government and this House should take in these circumstances,” he said. -- Additional reporting: Guardian

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