May summons Cabinet in advance of next week's key Brexit vote

Latest: Theresa May has summoned British cabinet ministers to Downing Street - apparently for discussions about next week's Brexit vote.

The meeting comes just hours after the UK Prime Minister's spokesperson insisted the vote in the House of Commons next week would go ahead as planned.

MPs are expected to reject Mrs May's Brexit deal on Tuesday.

Earlier: British Prime Minister Theresa May has signalled that MPs could be given the power to decide whether the UK goes into a controversial Brexit backstop arrangement regarding the Northern Irish border.

Mrs May indicated Parliament would choose between triggering the backstop or extending a transition period after the UK formally quits the EU.

The move is likely to be seen as a bid to bolster flagging support ahead of a crunch Commons vote on her EU withdrawal deal next Tuesday – a showdown Mrs May made clear she would not postpone.

Mrs May told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There will be a choice between, if we get to that point, a choice between going into the backstop and extending the transition period.

“Now, there are pros and cons of both sides of that.

“People have a concern of the backstop, that we could be in it indefinitely.

“But, in the backstop we have no financial obligations, we have no free movement, we have very light level playing field rules with the EU.

“In the implementation period, we still have to negotiate the terms, but there will be concerns about the fact that they would require, I’m sure they would require, some more money to be paid, for example.

If it comes to the point where the Government makes, shows, a determination to implement the Withdrawal Agreement with its damaging terms at present, or some future version of it, which is still equally damaging, we will not be supporting the Government

“So there would be arguments on different sides.”

Asked if she would be happy for Parliament to adjudicate on whether to go into the backstop or extend implementation, the PM said: “I think people are concerned about the role of the UK in making these decisions.

“And, the obvious, in terms of the UK, is for it to be Parliament that makes these decisions.”

The backstop, intended to prevent the return of a hard border in Northern Ireland, is highly controversial as Brexiteer MPs claim it traps the UK into obeying rules set by Brussels without a say over them.

The UK Government insists it aims to conclude a comprehensive trade deal with the EU before a backstop arrangement would be needed.

Mrs May said that any deal with the EU, such as a Canada-style free trade agreement favoured by some Brexiteers, would also require a backstop arrangement.

(PA Graphics)

Mrs May’s comments came as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) insisted it will withdraw support for her Government if Mrs May presses ahead with the Brexit deal with the EU.

Asked if the DUP was prepared to precipitate a general election, the party’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If it comes to the point where the Government makes, shows, a determination to implement the Withdrawal Agreement with its damaging terms at present, or some future version of it, which is still equally damaging, we will not be supporting the Government.”

Meanwhile a European Court of Justice ruling on the reversibility of Article 50 will take place the day before MPs vote on Mrs May’s Brexit deal, the court has announced.

- Press Association

Earlier: Theresa May’s Brexit troubles continue as DUP steps up opposition

Theresa May has been given a stark warning that her premiership could be ended if she ploughs ahead with her Brexit deal.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which props up Mrs May’s administration, made clear it would support the Government in a confidence motion if the Brexit deal was rejected by MPs on December 11.

But the party’s 10 MPs would not back the British Prime Minister if her Brexit deal, including the controversial Northern Ireland backstop measure, survives.

The DUP’s position heaps further pressure on Mrs May ahead of the crunch vote on the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration thrashed out after months of negotiations in Brussels.

Labour has indicated it will table a motion of no confidence in Theresa May in the wake of a defeat on such a pivotal issue for her.

Tory resistance to the Brexit plan could be bolstered by the knowledge that voting down the deal will not necessarily result in the collapse of the Government given the DUP’s stance.

The DUP’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said it would be “illogical” for his party to turn on the Tories if it had already seen off the Brexit deal.

The UK Government has gone to extraordinary lengths in an effort to limit the rebellion next week.

Chief Whip Julian Smith attended a meeting with the European Research Group (ERG) of Brexiteers in Parliament on Wednesday night and was said to be in “listening” mode – although no concessions were offered to would-be rebels.

Meanwhile an ERG source said members of the Privy Council – senior MPs and former ministers – had been invited to a briefing with the Cabinet Office’s Civil Contingencies Secretariat to be told about the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit.

The source suggested it was “outrageous b****cks” and attempting to “spook grandees is pure bullsh*t theatre”.

The likelihood of defeat, and the further damage that will do to Mrs May’s fragile authority, has led to some Cabinet ministers suggesting the vote should be postponed, The Times reported.

Debate on the Brexit agreement will continue in the Commons today.

Meanwhile The Daily Telegraph reported that Brussels could be prepared to discuss extending Article 50 – delaying Brexit until after March 29 2019 – if the deal is rejected by MPs.

The entrenched opposition faced by Mrs May on her own benches was made clear at the ERG’s meeting in the Palace of Westminster.

European Research Group chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg (Victoria Jones/PA)

The group’s chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg, who had held talks with Mr Dodds earlier in the day, told the private meeting: “The DUP will support the Government in a confidence motion if the Withdrawal Agreement is voted down.

“But the risk of losing them and having an election is if the Withdrawal Agreement goes through.”

Sources at the ERG meeting described it as “full and frank” and “candid”, with the Chief Whip left in no doubt about what would be required to win over would-be rebels.

A Government source said the Whips’ Office and Mrs May would do “as much as possible” to get support in “one of the biggest votes in recent parliamentary history”.

The source said ministers were “looking at all options to secure the vote”.

But it is understood that no detailed policy proposals were put forward by the Government at the meeting.

I don’t think a general election at this stage is in the interests of the country. I don’t think a second referendum is either

One potential measure reportedly being floated as a way to win over would-be rebels is a “parliamentary lock” which would give MPs a vote before the Northern Irish backstop is implemented.

But a senior Eurosceptic said the ERG had “seen no text for any amendment” other than those which had already been put down.

And Mr Dodds dismissed the “parliamentary lock”, pointing out that “it doesn’t have any effect” on the Withdrawal Agreement thrashed out with Brussels which contains the contentious measure.

On ITV’s Peston, Mr Dodds said there would be “implications” for Mrs May if she pressed ahead with the deal.

“That’s the risk that the Prime Minister is running,” he said.

On BBC’s Newsnight, Mr Dodds added: “I don’t think a general election at this stage is in the interests of the country. I don’t think a second referendum is either.

“I think Parliament has been given its instructions by the people of the UK as a whole to get on with Brexit.”

He said that nobody wanted a no-deal Brexit but time had been wasted by the Prime Minister “going down a path that she must have known weeks ago couldn’t command a majority in Parliament”.

- Press Association

More on this topic

Hammond takes swipe at no-deal Brexiteers as Tory leadership battle looms

European elections in UK this week may likely decide sterling’s destiny

Brexit could make UK a ‘gangsters’ paradise’

Cabinet to consider Brexit ‘indicative votes’ to end impasse

More in this Section

Top official set to snub committee on broadband

Omagh terrorist laws to be renewed after McKee killing

Plastic bottle alternative gets spirited response from Charles

No plans to legalise cannabis, Harris insists


Irish Examiner Sustainability Month special: Are retailers meeting customer expectations for sustainable products?

Making the most of Irish strawberries - Michelle Darmody shares her recipes

Making Cents: Help protect the planet and occupy the kids

Good Omens and great expectations

More From The Irish Examiner