Cross-party MPs vow to block May proposals on Brexit deal

Conservative Brexiteers and pro-Europeans opposing stance on EU customs arrangement

Theresa May's hopes of winning parliamentary support for a Brexit deal dimmed further on Sunday with MPs from all sides threatening to vote against her proposals. European Union negotiators have told Britain there must be a breakthrough early this week on the issue of a backstop to guarantee no return to a hard border if a deal is to be agreed by the end of this month.

Conservative Brexiteers and pro-Europeans are united in their opposition to Mrs May's plan to keep the whole of the United Kingdom in a customs arrangement with the EU until a permanent solution to the Border is found. The DUP's Sammy Wilson said on Sunday that his party will vote against a deal based on the current proposals and Labour ruled out supporting the prime minister's plan.

In a joint article in the Sunday Telegraph with leading Conservative Brexiteer Steve Baker, Mr Wilson said the current backstop proposal should be abandoned in favour of a standalone treaty on trade facilitation with Ireland.

“It would deliver an invisible, compliant border under WTO rules and it would be suitable for inclusion in the ultimate FTA [free trade agreement] as the Irish Border protocol to the trade facilitation chapter. Ireland would have a permanent, legally enforceable backstop, consistent with all parties’ commitment to no hard border under any circumstances,” the article said.


“The EU would have a mechanism within their existing law for ensuring the integrity of the single market under WTO rules or an FTA. The whole UK would leave together, into a situation of self-government.”

British statecraft

Jo Johnson's resignation as transport minister last Friday, when he described the Brexit negotiations as the worst example of British statecraft since the 1956 Suez crisis, has galvanised other Conservatives who want a second referendum. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn appeared to rule out a second vote on Brexit in an interview with Der Spiegel on Saturday but shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry told the BBC's Andrew Marr on Sunday that the party could yet support another referendum.

“If we don’t have a general election, which we think we should have, then yes of course all the options remain on the table and we would campaign for there to be a people’s vote but, you know, there are several stages before we get there,” she said.

Review mechanism

Among the issues that remain to be negotiated is the nature of a review mechanism that would determine when a backstop would end. The EU has rejected British proposals for a unilateral review mechanism and for independent arbitration but commons leader Andrea Leadsom said Britain must be able to leave when it chose.

“It cannot be a decision that can be overturned by the EU, it must be capable for the United Kingdom to decide to leave that customs arrangement and it cannot be something the European Union can hold us to,” she told the BBC.

“Frankly, it’s because that would be to then fail to fulfil on the will of the people expressed at the referendum and I very much doubt we’d get it through parliament.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested on Sunday that Britain could leave the EU without a deal but pay £20 billion to Brussels in return for a standstill transition period up to December 2020.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times