May ministerial roadshow to comb Britain to promote Brexit deal
Protective elements of proposed exit accord will be highlighted amid calls to stall vote
British prime minister Theresa May lights up Downing Street Christmas tree: “Overwhelmingly, the message I’ve heard is that people want us to get on with it.” Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA
Up to 30 of Theresa May’s ministers will fan out across Britain on Friday to make the case for her Brexit deal, amid ever louder calls to postpone next week’s vote to avoid a crushing defeat. The ministers will visit schools, hospitals, factories and other workplaces to argue that the deal will protect the economy, jobs and public services.
“I’ve been speaking to factory workers in Scotland, farmers in Wales and people right across the country, answering their questions about the deal and our future. Overwhelmingly, the message I’ve heard is that people want us to get on with it. And that’s why it’s important that ministers are out speaking with communities across the UK today about how the deal works for them,” the British prime minister said.
Downing Street insisted on Thursday that MPs will vote on the Brexit deal next Tuesday, despite Mrs May’s apparent failure to win over critics within her own party. Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of Conservative backbenchers, said he would welcome a delay if it helped to address MPs’ concerns over the Northern Ireland backstop.
Substance vs timing
“I think the most important thing is to have clarity about how we might remove ourselves from a backstop, Northern Ireland protocol situation if we were to enter into one in the future. It’s having the answer to that question of substance that is most important, not the timing,” Sir Graham told the BBC.
“So if that question can be answered in the course of the next few days, then all well and good. If it can’t then I certainly would welcome the vote being deferred until such time as we can answer that question.”
The prime minister is considering how to reassure MPs that they can decide whether to enter the backstop or remain in a transition arrangement, following all EU rules and paying into its budget. They will be able to make such a choice in June 2020 but the transition can only be extended for a maximum of a further two years.
Under the withdrawal agreement, Britain would then automatically enter the backstop if a new arrangement that keeps the Border open had not been agreed. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday that the EU would not reopen the text of the withdrawal agreement.
“I must say once again today, calmly and clearly, it is the only and best possible agreement,” he said.
“Everybody needs to do their bit, everybody needs to take on the responsibility. The British parliament will be voting on this in the next few days. This has serious implications for the future of the country.”
On the third day of the Commons debate on the deal, chancellor Philip Hammond warned that a no-deal Brexit would mean tariffs, paperwork and bureaucracy as well as disruption to trade.
“I do not believe that we can afford the economic cost of a no-deal exit,” he said.