- Theresa May has been advised to set out her departure date in order to win the support of sceptical Brexit-supporting Tory MPs, who could be more tempted to back the deal if a Brexiteer prime minister was installed next year.
- May’s chances of getting her deal through parliament have decreased further after new, damaging attacks on her Brexit deal from US President Trump and her loyalist former defence secretary Michael Fallon.
- Downing Street’s attempt to sell the deal to Labour MPs last night also appears to have backfired.
LONDON – Theresa May is under growing pressure to hand Conservative MPs a date for her resignation in return for their support for a Brexit deal, as one of her most loyal MPs Michael Fallon issued a damaging warning that her draft deal was a “huge gamble.”
The prime minister remains under sustained attack over her draft withdrawal agreement, with US President Donald Trump tweeting on Monday that the plan struck with Brussels “sounds like a great deal for the EU” and would restrict trade with the US.
And in a worrying development for May, the former defence secretary Michael Fallon, who has previously been a party loyalist, said that May’s deal was “doomed” and would mean “paying, leaving, surrendering our vote and our veto without any firm commitment to frictionless trade.”
With May running out of time to persuade sceptical Brexiteer MPs to support her deal, some Tories have urged her to spell out a timetable for her departure, according to a Times report citing Cabinet sources.
A promise by May to quit soon after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 would help to pacify some Conservative MPs, including Cabinet ministers, who want Britain to strike a Canada-style deal, the source said.
They believe that Tories who dislike May’s Chequers plan might still back the withdrawal agreement – which sets out the terms of Britain’s divorce from the EU – if they were confident that a Brexiteer prime minister could renegotiate an alternative future UK-EU relationship in the next stage of negotiations.
“We know that the future relationship is not binding. This means she is the problem, not the deal per se, since it leaves plenty of flexibility for a successor to organise technical solutions for the Irish border and move towards Canada,” the source told the Times.
May’s prospects of getting a deal through parliament have decreased even further in light of Michael Fallon confirming he would vote against the deal. Speaking on BBC 4’s Today programme, he confirmed he would vote against the deal and refused to back May as prime minister. Asked if she was doomed, Fallon replied: “That’s up to my colleagues.”
Conservative Brexiteers have also seized on Donald Trump’s comments as further proof of why May’s deal must be opposed. Tory MP Peter Lilley, a member of the pro-Brexit European Research Group of MPs, said: “Unfortunately, President Trump is right.”
“The PM’s draft deal would rule out any prospect of UK trade deals with the US, let alone accepting the invitation to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But it is a superb deal for the EU which will be able to offer their trade partners access to the UK market in return for privileges for EU exporters. And we are paying £39 billion for this.”
May’s pitch to Labour
May’s bid to sell the deal yesterday also extended to a pitch to win the support of Labour MPs, almost all of whom plan to vote against the deal and hope to trigger a general election.
Downing Street’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell extended an invitation to all Labour MPs on Monday evening, but only 26 turned up. Most appear to have been unconvinced, with Labour MP Stephen Doughty telling ITV the session had only persuaded waverers not to back the deal.
Labour and Co-op MP Gid Killen, who did attend, told Sky News that Downing Street had “got the tone wrong” and said it “felt more like a pitch you’d give to the ERG.” No Labour MPs have announced publicly that they have switched to supporting the deal since the briefing.
Tory Brexiteers have reacted angrily to Downing Street’s attempts to court opposition MPs. Maria Caulfield MP said in a statement: “It is so disappointing that after Gavin Barwell faithfully promised me and many other colleagues that Number 10 would never try to gain Labour MPs support against us as a party, it seems they have gone back on their pledge.”
“Number 10’s policy of trying to get BRINO [Brexit in name only] on Labour votes will destroy this government and let Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street,” she said.
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