May’s Brexit deal suffers further blow as top ally rejects it

Former defence secretary says Britain should seek better divorce terms and warns of Commons defeat for agreement

US president Donald Trump has said that the proposed Brexit agreement "sounds like a great deal for the EU", saying he worries that it will prohibit trade between America and the UK. Video: The White House

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British prime minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan has come under further pressure after a staunch ally attacked it and US president Donald Trump issued a warning over future trade.

Under the deal secured with EU leaders on Sunday, Britain would leave the bloc in March with continued close trade ties. But the agreement has attracted criticism from supporters of a cleaner break with the EU and from opponents of Brexit, stacking the odds against it passing through parliament next month.

Michael Fallon, Mrs May’s former defence secretary who resigned last year after a journalist accused him of sexual harassment, told BBC radio that British negotiators should head back to Brussels to secure a better divorce agreement.

Asked whether he would vote against the current deal, Mr Fallon said: “As it stands at the moment, yes. I don’t think this gives us the certainty that we need and it is therefore a gamble.”

The MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “My fear is that this deal gives us the worst of all worlds — no guarantee of smooth trade in the future and no ability to reduce the tariffs that we need to conclude trade deals with the rest of the world.

“So, unless the House of Commons can be persuaded somehow that those are possible, then I think, yes, the deal is doomed.”

Mr Fallon said the government must heed Mr Trump’s claim on Monday night that the withdrawal agreement “sounds like a great deal for the EU”.

Mr Trump said: “I think we have to take a look at, seriously, whether or not the UK is allowed to trade, because, you know, right now, if you look at the deal, they may not be able to trade with us. And that wouldn’t be a good thing.”

“I don’t think they meant that. I don’t think that the Prime Minister meant that. And, hopefully, she’ll be able to do something about that.”

Mr Fallon said: “It’s no use us just brushing that off . . . he’s the President of the United States, and if he says it’s going to be difficult, then it certainly looks like it’s going to be difficult. This is not a good deal and we need a better deal.”

However, Mrs May’s de facto deputy prime minister, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, told the BBC on Tuesday that no other plan was on the table.

He also shrugged off Mr Trump’s comments, saying: “I don’t think it was that unexpected.

“I think it was always going to be challenging to do a deal with the United States. The United States is a tough negotiator, President Trump’s always said very plainly ‘I put America first’.

Some Brexit-supporting lawmakers in Mrs May’s Conservative Party could support her deal if she sets out when she will quit, the Times newspaper reported.

The prime minister said on Monday that no better deal was available and that no one could predict what would happen if they rejected it. She has 314 active Conservative MPs in the 650-seat House of Commons and would need around 320 votes to ratify the deal under current attendance projections, when it goes to lawmakers on December 11th.

The British government will publish its economic analysis of a range of different Brexit scenarios on Wednesday afternoon, Mrs May’s spokesman said. Earlier this month, the government bowed to pressure from lawmakers to publish the analysis, including comparing the Brexit deal to remaining in the European Union, before parliament votes on the deal .

The prime minister’s spokesman also said the government would not be revoking the Article 50 notice which triggered the process of leaving the EU.

The comments came in response to a hearing in Europe’s top court, which was told on Tuesday that Britain can unilaterally reverse its decision to leave the EU.

Mrs May is heading to Northern Ireland to try to sell the deal she brought back from Brussels on Sunday as “good for the union”.

The prime minister will visit Belfast on Tuesday in an attempt to win public support in Northern Ireland for her Brexit deal, which the Democratic Unionist Party has promised to vote against.

The prime minister will meet students, academics and community and religious leaders at an event at Queen’s University Belfast before meeting representatives from the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance.

Mrs May also challenged Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to a Brexit TV debate on the issue.

Mrs May told the Sun: “I am going to be explaining why I think this deal is the right deal for the UK — and, yes, I am ready to debate it with Jeremy Corbyn, because I have got a plan. He hasn’t got a plan.”

A Labour spokesman said: “Jeremy would relish a head-to-head debate with Theresa May about her botched Brexit deal and the future of our country.” – Reuters, PA

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