Tory Brexiters have drawn up a list of conditions that Theresa May needs to satisfy in order to receive their backing in a looming crunch Commons vote on her Brexit deal.
Members of the European Research Group (ERG), chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, have drawn up “three tests” that May has to meet in order for them to overturn the parliamentary defeat she suffered in January when 230 MPs voted against her deal.
They want to oversee any agreement that the attorney general Geoffrey Cox reaches with Brussels, in which he is attempting to extract from EU leaders an admission that the Irish backstop – the policy that will keep the UK in a customs union with the EU to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland – is temporary in nature.
The Sunday Times reported that the tests have been drawn up with Nigel Dodds, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which props up May’s government. The DUP has warned it will not accept the backstop in its current form out of fear Northern Ireland will be treated differently to the rest of the UK.
The document makes three demands, namely that there be a “clearly worded, legally binding treaty clause "that overrides the text of the withdrawal agreement; language that moves beyond restating the “temporary nature of the backstop” to Cox’s preferred words that it would “endure indefinitely”, and a “clear and unconditional route of out the backstop if trade talks fail”, including through a time limit or unilateral exit mechanism.
The signs that the ERG Brexiters may be partial to May’s deal come after the Prime Minister agreed last week to allow MPs another vote on her deal by 12 March. If that fails, she will hold a vote on whether MPs want to see a no-deal Brexit. If the majority of MPs express that they are against leaving the EU without a deal, there will be a vote on 14 March on whether Article 50 – the mechanism by which the UK leaves the EU – should be extended.
Many Brexiteers are concerned that a delay to Article 50 will pave the way for a reversal of the referendum result, in allowing time for a second referendum to be held.
International trade secretary Liam Fox told the BBC today that while he wanted the UK leave on the scheduled exit date of the 29 March, he was willing to accept a delay if it meant ensuring there was a “smooth Brexit”.
Meanwhile, the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said an extension to Article 50 to June was looking “very likely” and the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, told Spanish newspaper El Mundo that a “technical extension” of up to two months would be needed.