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May in late plea for support as Brexit vote looms

THERESA MAY has made a last-ditch plea for MPs to back her Brexit deal, after Brussels chiefs issued a letter offering assurances that they do not want the controversial ‘backstop’ to be permanent.

Speaking in a factory in Leave-voting Stoke-on-Trent, the prime minister said the letter from European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker made clear that the backstop was ‘not a threat or a trap’.

And she said she was committed to working with MPs to ensure that workers’ rights and environmental standards were protected after Brexit.

But her hopes that the letter would win over enough MPs to rescue her Withdrawal Agreement looked set to be dashed as the Democratic Unionist Party, which props up her minority administration, dismissed it as ‘meaningless’.

‘Rather than reassure us, the Tusk and Juncker letter bolsters our concerns,’ said DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, who called on the PM to demand changes to the Agreement itself.

And Tory MP Gareth Johnson quit as an assistant whip to oppose Mrs May’s plan, saying it was clear there was ‘no significant change’ to the Withdrawal Agreement.

Mrs May warned that MPs would be behaving with the ‘height of recklessness’ if they rejected her Withdrawal Agreement in Tuesday’s historic vote, when no alternative deal was on offer which was negotiable and respected the 2016 referendum result.

But the deal has been branded a ‘terrible shambles’ by the former chairman of the Conservative Party.

Lord Patten of Barnes warned that arguments over the EU were set to ‘pollute British politics’ for a long time to come even if the deal was agreed in tomorrow’s crucial Commons vote.

He told the House of Lords that ‘civil wars’ in political parties did ‘one hell of a lot of collateral damage’ not just to the Tories but the country.

Meanwhile, at least 64 Conservative MPs have said they intend to vote against Theresa May’s Brexit deal, according to the latest calculations.

The number includes 17 MPs who have spoken in the Commons in recent days of their intention to vote No.

The total is likely to rise higher when the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement continues later today and tomorrow.

A rebellion by 64 Tory MPs could be enough to leave Mrs May facing defeat in the Commons by over 100.

Speaking in the Commons this afternoon Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was clear Mrs May had failed to secure legally binding assurances from Brussels.

He dismissed the joint letter as no more than ‘warm words and aspirations’, which ‘categorically’ fell short of the legally binding assurances promised by the prime minister.